Esophageal Motility Disorders

Esophageal motility disorder, or esophageal dysmotility, is a condition in which the esophagus – the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach – doesn’t work normally and fails to properly deliver liquids and food from the mouth to the stomach. It can be caused by esophageal spasms or by the failure of the esophageal muscles to contract.

Our group of highly experienced thoracic surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center performs a number of cutting-edge procedures to treat esophageal motility disorders. We feature the latest imaging techniques and treatments, including minimally invasive and robotic therapies.

Our thoracic surgeons work closely with UT Southwestern’s speech and swallowing specialists, motility specialty gastroenterologists, interventional gastroenterologists, and gastroenterology radiologists. Many members of the team are internationally recognized for their expertise and work.

Esophageal motility disorders encompass swallowing disorders (dysphagia) and include: achalasia; spastic esophageal motility disorders (diffuse esophageal spasm, nutcracker esophagus, and hypertensive lower esophageal sphincter); inefficient esophageal motility disorder; and secondary esophageal motility disorders related to scleroderma, diabetes mellitus, and GERD.   


Symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Inability to sleep well
  • Recurrent bouts of pneumonia
  • Regurgitation
  • Sensation of food getting stuck in your chest or neck
  • Weight loss

You may also experience anxiety, or an inability to sleep well.


If we suspect that you have esophageal dysmotility, we will conduct a physical examination and order tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Tests and imaging techniques used to diagnose these diseases might include:

  • Barium swallow studies to evaluate esophageal anatomy, function (peristalsis), and reflux
  • Endoscopy to look directly at the inner walls of the esophagus to evaluate narrowing and exclude presence of a tumor
  • Esophageal endoscopic ultrasound
  • Esophageal manometry to measure the function of the esophageal muscle
  • pH study to assess for abnormal reflux


Our multidisciplinary team of thoracic surgeons and gastroenterologists treats esophageal motility disorders with procedures that include:

  • Medications that reduce the spasm
  • Balloon dilation of the lower esophagus to disrupt the abnormal obstructing sphincter
  • Botulinum toxin or Botox injection in the areas of the spasm
  • Surgical manipulation of the valve at the junction of the stomach and the esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter) to reduce pressure
  • Heller myotomy, to divide the esophageal sphincter muscle to allow food to pass through

Clinical Trials

In addition to standard treatments for esophageal motility disorders, UT Southwestern gives patients access to the most promising new therapies through clinical trials. Talk with your doctor to see if a clinical trial may be right for you.

Meet Our Team

UT Southwestern’s team of thoracic surgeons and gastroenterologists who treat esophageal motility disorders includes:

Learn more about our Thoracic Surgery team.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with an esophageal dysmotility specialist at UT Southwestern’s facilities in Dallas or to learn more about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.