Dysphagia due to upper esophageal sphincter (UES) dysfunction can be a manifestation of Chiari malformation. We evaluated five young children with dysphagia and a Chiari malformation before and after craniocervical decompression.

Preoperatively, esophageal manometry with a multilumen perfused catheter revealed failure of complete relaxation of the UES in three patients, pharyngo-UES incoordination in one patient, and both abnormalities in the last patient.

Preoperative barium esophagograms were obtained in four of the patients and were normal in two. One patient had nasal regurgitation of barium and delayed passage of barium through the UES. One patient had a posterior pharyngeal impression (bar) at the level of the UES and delayed transit of barium.

All patients had clinical and manometric resolution of UES dysfunction following surgical decompression of the Chiari malformation. All swallows were coordinated, and UES relaxations were complete.

However, the posterior pharyngeal bar persisted on postoperative esophagogram in the only patient who had had the abnormality preoperatively, although it no longer interfered with passage of barium. Another patient had a narrowed UES with decreased relaxation. Swallowing was radiographically normal in three patients postoperatively.

Conclusion: Surgical decompression of Chiari malformation may lead to complete clinical and manometric resolution of dysphagia due to upper esophageal sphincter dysfunction. Esophageal manometry is more likely than barium swallow to demonstrate the abnormality, and correlates better with symptomatic improvement postoperatively.

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