Distal esophageal spasm and the Chicago classification: is timing everything?

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According to the Chicago classification of esophageal motility disorders, distal esophageal spasm (DES) is defined as premature esophageal contractions (distal latency [DL] <4.5 s) for ≥20% of swallows, in the presence of a normal mean integral relaxation pressure (IRP). However, some patients with symptoms of DES have rapid contractions with a normal DL. The aim of this study was to characterize these patients and compare their clinical characteristics to those of patients classified as DES.


We retrospectively compared clinical characteristics and high-resolution manometry findings of patients with rapid contractions with normal latency to those meeting the Chicago classification criteria for DES.

Key Results

Over a 3-year period, nine patients were diagnosed with DES and 14 showed rapid contractions in the distal esophagus with normal latency. The latter were younger than DES patients (60 ± 4 vs 72 ± 3 years, p < 0.05). Dysphagia and retrosternal pain occurred to a similar degree in both groups. Weight loss and abnormal barium esophagogram tended to be more frequent in DES patients. There was no difference in contractile front velocity (CFV) and in distal contractile integral (DCI) between patients with DES and rapid contractions with normal latency. Lower esophageal sphincter pressures were not different between groups. However, IRP was significantly higher in DES compared to rapid contractions with normal latency (11.7 ± 0.6 mmHg vs 7.6 ± 1.2 mmHg, p < 0.05), albeit still within the normal range.

Conclusions & Inferences

These data suggest that patients with simultaneous contractions with normal latency represent a group of patients with many features similar to DES.

Rapid contractions with normal latency represent a form of the spastic esophageal motor disorders, and should not be considered normal. A more appropriate term for this group of patients could be normal latency DES as opposed to the short latency variant.

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