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Management of achalasia: surgery or pneumatic dilation
  1. Joel E Richter1,
  2. Guy E Boeckxstaens2
  1. 1Department of Medicine and Section of Gastroenterology, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  2. 2Department Gastroenterology, University Hospital Leuven, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joel E Richter, Temple University, Department of Medicine, 3401 North Broad Street, 801 Parkinson Pavilion, Philadelphia, PA 19140, USA; jrichter{at}


Achalasia is an esophageal motility disorder of unknown cause, characterised by aperistalsis of the esophageal body and impaired lower esophageal sphincter relaxation. Patients present at all ages, primarily with dysphagia for solids/liquids and bland regurgitation. The diagnosis is suggested by barium esophagram or endoscopy and confirmed by esophageal manometry. Achalasia cannot be cured. Instead, our goal is to relieve symptoms, improve esophageal emptying and prevent the development of megaesophagus. The most successful therapies are pneumatic dilation and surgical myotomy. The advantages of pneumatic dilation include an outpatient procedure, minimal pain, return to work the next day, mild if any GERD, and can be performed in any age group and even during pregnancy. Pneumatic dilation does not hinder future myotomy, and all cost analyses find it less expensive than Heller myotomy. Laparoscopic myotomy with a partial fundoplication has the advantage of being a single procedure, dysphagia relief is longer at the cost of more troubling heartburn, and a myotomy may be more effective treatment in adolescents and younger adults, especially men. Over a two year horizon, the clinical success of pneumatic dilation and laparoscopic myotomy are comparable in a recent large European randomised trial. The prognosis for achalasia patients to return to near-normal swallowing and good quality of life are excellent, but few are “cured” with a single treatment and intermittent “touch up” procedures may be required.

  • Achalasia
  • myotomy
  • pneumatic dilation
  • botulinum toxin

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  • Funding GEB is supported by a grant (Odysseus program, G.0905.07) of the Flemish “Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek” (FWO).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.