An esophageal motility test, also known as esophageal manometry, is a test of the function of your esophagus and your lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

In a healthy person, when they swallow food or liquid the esophagus works in unison and exerts pressure to send the food down towards your stomach. Finally, the LES relaxes and opens to allow entry into the stomach and then contracts to close and prevent acid from escaping.

Why Undergo A Motility Test?

Esophageal manometry can determine if there is a problem with your motility or your LES after swallowing. This is especially useful for those patients who are not responding to drugs for GERD and for those patients preparing for surgery. For example, you may be scheduled for a Nissen Fundoplication procedure in the belief that your LES is malfunctioning. However, if you also have an esophageal motility problem then the surgery may not cure your problem or may need to be modified.

The Manometry Procedure

Before the procedure you will be asked not to eat or drink anything for around 6 to 8 hours. You may also be asked to avoid specific drugs that could interfere with the test. A catheter (narrow tube) is then inserted via your nose or mouth, down your esophagus and into your stomach. You may be given an anesthetic spray or gel to reduce discomfort. The insertion may activate your gag reflex but this should soon pass as soon as the catheter travels past your throat.

The catheter is then slowly pulled out so that the sensor on the end of it passes back out of your stomach to just above the LES. This sensor measures pressure and the readings are obtained from a device/monitor attached to the other end of the catheter. You will then be asked to make a swallowing motion (possibly with the assistance of a liquid). As you swallow, your esophagus will exert pressure and your LES will relax and contract. Your doctor will be able to inspect your pressure readings to see if they are normal.

The test takes around 30 minutes to one hour and is extremely low risk. Rare complications may include aspiration of saliva into the lungs or tears to the esophageal wall but these are extremely unlikely. Your doctor may ask you to avoid eating or drinking for an hour after the test finishes. You may have a slight sore throat that you can take lozenges for.