Esophageal studies help diagnose swallowing and other disorders

Motility refers to the ability of the esophagus to spontaneously and automatically move food and liquid from the throat down through the upper and lower esophageal sphincters and into the stomach. An esophageal motility study, or EMS, also called esophageal manometry, measures movement and pressure, and esophageal strength and muscle coordination when swallowing. This movement is called peristalsis.

Your doctor may recommend an EMS if you are having symptoms such as heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and to diagnose motility disorders such as:

  • Achalasia
  • Diffuse esophageal spasm
  • Nutcracker esophagus
  • Hypertensive lower esophageal sphincter

EMS may also be recommended for suspected scleroderma and associated severe GERD.

The EMS procedure and what to expect

An esophageal motility study is an outpatient procedure meaning you will be able to go home after the appointment. The doctor will apply a topical anesthetic (numbing medication) in and around the nose and may also apply a numbing agent to the throat. You will, however, be awake for the procedure because the study requires your conscious participation and full use of your esophageal muscles. You will be seated throughout the process.

The doctor will pass a thin, flexible tube through your nostril down through your esophagus and into your stomach. Once the tube is touching the lining of your stomach, you will be asked to lie on your left side and to drink some water at certain intervals. The tube senses esophageal motion and pressure as you swallow, and it reports that information on a graph. You may experience some discomfort as you get used to the tube being in your nose and throat, but the procedure is not painful and only lasts about 30 minutes.

As with any test or procedure, there are certain risks, which vary greatly depending on the individual patient. There is very little risk or side effects associated with EMS and most people are able to tolerate the study well. Your doctor will review the potential risks and benefits with you before the study is performed.

If you have esophageal or gastrointestinal concerns or symptoms, be sure to talk with your doctor.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.