What is the role of the upper esophageal sphincter in the pathophysiology of esophageal spasm?

Updated: Aug 07, 2019
  • Author: Ahmad Malas, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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When functioning properly, the esophagus can detect the presence of a food bolus at the UES and then coordinate the progression of the food down the esophagus to the stomach. When this does not occur in a coordinated fashion, the patient can develop symptoms of esophageal spasm or oropharyngeal dysphagia.

The UES is contracted tonically. Manometric evaluation of the UES reveals constant spiking activity. As food is sensed at the UES, the laryngeal muscles contract to move the cricoid cartilage anteriorly. The tonic contraction of the UES is inhibited, opening the UES to allow the passage of food. The inner circular muscles and longitudinal muscles of the remainder of the upper zone then propel the food. To propel the food, the longitudinal muscles must contract, followed immediately by contraction of the circular muscles. At the end of the upper zone, the initial wave dies out as another wave starts, propelling the food down to the middle zone. The nucleus solitarius in the brainstem controls swallowing in the upper zone.

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