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Esophageal Motility

The esophagus is a narrow, muscular tube that connects your throat to your stomach. The muscles in the esophagus help send food and fluids down to the stomach.

Signs of a Motility Disorder

When the muscles in the esophagus become weak or out of sync for a long period of time (months to years), this is called a motility disorder.

You may have a motility disorder in the esophagus if you experience:

  • Difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia)
  • Angina-like pain (discomfort in the chest)
  • Persistent heartburn
  • Pain with swallowing (called odynophagia)
  • Food or drink getting stuck in the throat
  • Regurgitation

Types of Esophageal Motility Disorders

Our GI motility and physiology team specialize in diagnosing and treating symptoms that result from the following esophageal motility disorders:

  • Achalasia
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Esophageal diverticula
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis
  • Diffuse esophageal spasm
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Nutcracker esophagus
  • Para-esophageal hernia
  • Pseudo achalasia
  • Scleroderma


We work side by side with UC San Diego Health’s minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgery teams to treat achalasia, GERD, Barrett's esophagus, hiatal hernias, and esophageal cancer. At the forefront of leading-edge surgical care, our surgeons are able to use "scarless" surgery techniques for many GI conditions.

Learn more about GI surgery at UC San Diego Health

Esophageal Motility Procedures

Diagnostic procedures can help determine how well the esophagus is working.

1. Esophageal pH Monitoring

Esophageal pH monitoring determines how much and how often stomach acid enters the esophagus and how long it stays.  

There are two procedures used to test acidity, or pH, in the esophagus. These tests can help:

  • Doctors pinpoint treatment options for individuals with GERD who are not responding to medications
  • Identify conditions including nonacid reflux and low acid reflux disease

In the catheter-based approach, a thin tube is inserted through the nose down to the stomach to measure acidity in the esophagus. In the wireless Bravo approach, a tiny sensor is placed endoscopically in the esophagus. These measurement tools record and track liquids splashing upward into your esophagus that may be causing heartburn and esophageal pain.

Esophageal Manometry

This test measures the strength and coordination of the muscles in the esophagus to help identify conditions causing difficulty swallowing.

A thin, flexible tube containing many sensors will be passed through your nostril, down the back of your throat and into your esophagus. Measurements will be obtained as you swallow a spoonful of water every 30 seconds.

Esophageal manometry can help your doctor determine if you have achalasia, esophageal spasm, nutcracker esophagus, or normal peristalsis.


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