Biomechanics of cricopharyngeal bars.
Patients with a prominent cricopharyngeal bar visible on radiography are generally considered to have spasm of the cricopharyngeus, which is the major muscle component of the upper esophageal sphincter. This condition has been termed "cricopharyngeal achalasia." The aim of this study was to determine the pathogenesis of cricopharyngeal bars. Concurrent videofluoroscopic and manometric examinations of the pharynx and upper esophageal sphincter were performed in a cohort of six patients with prominent cricopharyngeal bars and in eight control volunteers. In each subject, swallows of 2-30-mL barium boluses were recorded. The patients with cricopharyngeal bars showed (a) normal peristaltic contraction in the pharynx, (b) normal axial upper esophageal sphincter pressure and relaxation, (c) normal flow rate across the upper esophageal sphincter, and (d) normal duration of upper esophageal sphincter opening for different bolus volumes. The major abnormalities in the patients with cricopharyngeal bars were (a) reduced maximal dimensions of the upper esophageal sphincter during the transsphincteric flow of barium and (b) increased intrabolus pressure upstream to the upper esophageal sphincter. Thus, the increase in intrabolus pressure preserved normal transsphincteric flow rates even though the upper esophageal sphincter did not open normally. Overall, the constellation of findings in the patients studied suggests that the underlying pathogenesis of their cricopharyngeal bar was reduced muscle compliance wherein the relaxed cricopharyngeus did not distend normally during swallowing.