Motility Disorders

Advanced care for motility disorders at Scripps

A lady smiling outdoors

Advanced care for motility disorders at Scripps

If you’ve struggled with swallowing, gagging, acid reflux, chronic cough, or other problems within your throat, then you understand how challenging it can be to enjoy a meal, a good night’s sleep or various other activities that others may take for granted.

Scripps gastroenterologists treat motility disorders of the esophagus, which is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. Thanks to their specialized training, broad experience and access to state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, they can detect and manage even the more uncommon motility disorders that are sometimes hard to distinguish from other gastrointestinal problems.

Scripps was ranked among the top hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report for our gastroenterology and GI surgery program. The annual U.S. News ranking recognizes hospitals for top performance across several categories, including patient safety, survival, advanced technologies and physician reputation.

About motility disorders

A happy elderly gentleman rests on a bench in a pleasant garden setting.

About motility disorders

Learn about motility disorders, including conditions that are diagnosed and treated at Scripps Health.

Locations near you

A happy middle-aged woman relaxes in a brightly lit kitchen setting.

Locations near you

Scripps Health offers expertise and care for motility disorders at locations throughout San Diego County.

What are motility disorders?

“Motility” is a technical term that refers to the way in which material (such as food) is propelled from your throat to your stomach, and then through the rest of your digestive tract, via a series of muscle contractions. If these muscles, called sphincters, aren’t working properly, you may have what doctors call a motility disorder.

If you often find yourself gagging, choking, or having trouble swallowing, you may have a motility problem in your upper esophagus. If the sphincter muscles in the lower part of your esophagus aren’t functioning normally, stomach acid can flow backwards up through your esophagus, causing acid reflux (also known as GERD), heartburn, or chronic coughing.

Esophageal motility disorders

  • Achalasia occurs when the sphincter muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus stops working properly, making it difficult for food or liquid to pass into the stomach.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD or acid reflux, occurs when acid flows backward out of your stomach and into the lower esophagus. Symptoms may include a sour or acidic taste in your mouth, heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing or a hoarse voice.
  • Esophageal spasms are abnormal, painful contractions in the esophagus that can last for several minutes or several hours at a time. These include diffuse esophageal spasms, which can cause food or beverage regurgitation, and especially strong contractions known as nutcracker esophagus.
  • Hypertensive lower esophageal sphincter, a condition in which the lower esophageal sphincter muscle contracts too strongly, often making it difficult for food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach.

Diagnosing motility disorders

Scripps offers some of the most advanced tools available for diagnosing complex motility disorders.

These tools provide our doctors with objective data that allow them to make a more precise diagnosis. For example, if you’ve had trouble swallowing, your doctor can distinguish whether the dysfunction is occurring in your esophagus, which may require one course of treatment, versus a problem in your throat that requires a much different kind of treatment.

Our diagnostic services include:

High-resolution esophageal manometry

Manometry is a procedure that measures how the muscles in your esophagus contract and relax after you swallow, which is an indication of how well your esophagus is functioning. The high-resolution system offered at Scripps Center for Voice and Swallowing is the gold standard for diagnosing motility disorders, allowing your gastroenterologist to pinpoint the underlying cause of your symptoms and effectively treat them.

During the procedure, a thin rubber tube called a catheter is passed from your nose down into your esophagus. The catheter contains sensors that measure the rhythm, force and coordination of your esophageal muscles.

Esophageal pH testing

pH testing is used to measure whether acid is escaping from the stomach and flowing backward into the esophagus, a condition known by several names including acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux, and GERD.

Scripps offers traditional 24-hour pH testing, in which a catheter containing a sensor that detects acid is passed through your nose and down into your esophagus. The tube remains in place for 24 hours.

We also offer 48-hour wireless pH testing. During this procedure, a small capsule is placed on the wall of your esophagus via a catheter. Once the catheter is removed, the device wirelessly transmits pH measurements to a receiver worn at your waist.

Motility disorder treatment at Scripps

Scripps offers numerous medical and surgical treatment options for motility disorders, including:

  • Medication is often used in combination with lifestyle changes to treat GERD symptoms, including heartburn. Your doctor may recommend you first try over-the-counter medications that help control acid. If those don’t work, your doctor may prescribe medications called H-2-receptor blockers (which reduce acid production) or proton pump inhibitors (which block acid production and can help heal the esophagus).
  • Laparoscopic Heller myotomy is a minimally-invasive surgical procedure used to treat achalasia. During this procedure, the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES is surgically separated from the muscles that surround it, which helps to open the sphincter and allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach.
  • Esophageal balloon dilation is a procedure that allows your doctor to widen a narrowed portion of your esophagus using a special balloon attached to an endoscope. When the balloon inflates, it stretches the portion of the esophagus that has become too narrow.
  • Minimally-invasive fundoplication, or anti-reflux surgery, is a treatment for GERD. It is often used when patients have tried other options, including medication and lifestyle changes, without success.
  • Incisionless GERD surgery is also used to treat chronic acid reflux. Scripps offers a procedure called transoral incisionless fundoplication, or TIF. A special device called an EsophyX is attached to an endoscope and guided through the mouth under general anesthesia. It allows surgeons to reinforce a weak esophageal sphincter.