Upper esophageal sphincter function was investigated during swallows of graded volumes in 8 normal volunteers. Concurrent recordings of videofluoroscopic and manometric studies were obtained and correlated with each other by means of a videotimer. Maximal upper esophageal sphincter (UES) pressure was typically located 1.5 cm distal to the air-tissue interface between the hypopharynx and the proximal margin of the sphincter. The region in which UES pressure was ≥ 50% maximal averaged 1.0 cm in length. Thus, the physiologic high-pressure zone of the UES corresponds in size and location to that of the cricopharyngeus muscle. Fluoroscopic analysis of sphincter movement indicated that the sphincter high-pressure zone moved 2.0-2.5 cm orally during swallowing and that the magnitude of the orad movement was directly related to the volume of barium swallowed. The maximal anterior-posterior diameter of sphincter opening during a swallow ranged from 0.9 to 1.5 cm and was also directly related to the volume swallowed. The intervals of UES opening and relaxation increased significantly with increasing bolus volume; the duration of UES relaxation ranged from a mean of 0.37 s for dry swallows to 0.65 s for 20-ml swallows. Thus, the dynamics of UES function during deglutition are dependent upon the volume of the swallowed bolus. Larger bolus volumes are accommodated by both an increased diameter of sphincter opening and by prolongation of the interval of sphincter relaxation. Analysis of the timing of other reference points within the pharyngeal swallow sequence indicated that as the manometric interval of UES relaxation increased, the period of laryngeal elevation was prolonged, the UES relaxed earlier and contracted later, and the interval between the onset of laryngeal elevation and hypopharyngeal contraction increased.
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