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J Clin Gastroenterol. 2006 Jul;40(6):504-9.

Clinical relevance of the nutcracker esophagus: suggested revision of criteria for diagnosis.

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  • 1Digestive Diseases Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.



Nutcracker esophagus (NE) is a manometric finding defined by peristaltic contractions with a mean distal esophageal amplitude (DEA) >180 mm Hg. This threshold has been selected as it exceeds the average DEA in healthy volunteers by 2 SDs. Since its introduction the clinical significance of this finding has been challenged, as many patients with NE are asymptomatic.


To evaluate whether defining NE based on a different DEA threshold would be clinically more meaningful.


Retrospective review of prospectively collected manometry data between October 2001 and December 2003. Using previously published normal DEA values (mean and SD) patients with NE were stratified into 3 groups: group A (2 to 3 SD above mean): DEA 180 to 220 mm Hg; group B (3 to 4 SD above mean): DEA 220 to 260 mm Hg; and group C (>4 SD above mean): DEA >260 mm Hg. Symptoms, esophageal acid exposure, bolus transit data, and lower esophageal sphincter data were reviewed.


The stratification of 56 NE patients into groups A, B, and C were 31, 16, and 9, respectively. The proportion of patients presenting with chest pain increased from 23% in group A to 69% in group B and 100% in group C. Patients in group C had significantly (P<0.05) higher mean lower esophageal sphincter pressure, shorter bolus transit time, and lower frequency of abnormal reflux.


A revised definition of NE to include patients with a DEA >260 mm Hg, and possibly those with >220 may have greater clinical relevance.

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