Since 1951, when it was first used as a treatment for post-poliomyelitis dysphagia, cricopharyngeal myotomy (CPM) has been used in the treatment of various neurogenic, myogenic, structural, and idiopathic disorders. Yet, the efficacy of CPM in treating patients with upper esophageal sphincter (UES) disorders remains controversial. Despite favorable reports regarding its success, too few studies about indications, complications, and outcomes of CPM have been conducted to quell the controversy. Swallowing is accomplished when three primary conditions exist: (1) the cricopharyngeus muscle (CP) relaxes-that is, it is not tonically contracted, (2) the laryngo-hyoid complex elevates in an anterior-superior direction to open the sphincter, and (3) pharyngeal pressure is sufficient to propel a bolus through the open sphincter. CPM is indicated when the second and third conditions are 'adequate' but the first is inadequate, thus resulting in pharyngeal dysphagia associated with a defective opening of the UES. UES dysfunction is determined most often through patient history, physical examination, and testing. Patients with Zenker's (pharyngoesophageal) diverticulum, oculopharyngeal dystrophy, or inclusion body myositis are among those reported to have the most positive responses to CPM. Modified barium swallow is the most common measurement of UES dysfunction; manometry also is used, but to a lesser degree because of catheter motion during swallowing. There are four approaches to CPM, including: (1) the external technique, which is indicated when a muscle biopsy or neck exploration is needed; (2) the endoscopic approach, which is reported to work best with patients with Zenker's diverticulum and offers the choice of electrocautery, laser, or the surgical stapler-the last option being the best choice for high-risk patients; (3) balloon dilatation of the UES, a low-risk option that reportedly works best in patients with fibrosis of the CP; and (4) botulinum toxin injection of the CP transcervically or endoscopically, which offers low risk and minimal or no anesthesia. This approach best serves cases of failed relaxation of the CP. Each approach has potential complications, but reports of such are few and rarely severe. In all cases, massive reflux should be controlled before CPM and the patient should be medically stable. Patient selection for CPM remains inadequate. To assess the efficacy of CPM, more multi-institutional outcome studies need to be conducted. In the meanwhile, clinical judgment and selective testing via modified barium swallow are the best methods for identifying patients who may derive the most benefit from CPM. Copyright (C) 2000 Excerpta Medica Inc.
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