Open Access Research article

Esophageal motility, vagal function and gastroesophageal reflux in a cohort of adult asthmatics

D Lakmali Amarasiri1*, Arunasalam Pathmeswaran2, Anuradha S Dassanayake3, Arjuna P de Silva4, Channa D Ranasinha3 and H Janaka de Silva4

Author affiliations

1 Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

2 Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

3 Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

4 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

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Citation and License

BMC Gastroenterology 2012, 12:140  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-12-140

Published: 12 October 2012



Asthmatics are known to have esophageal hypomotility. Vagal hypofunction and prolonged intra-esophageal acidification cause esophageal hypomotility. The contribution of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and vagal function to esophageal motility in asthmatics is unclear. We studied the relationship between esophageal motility, GER and vagal function in a cohort of adult asthmatics.


Thirty mild, stable asthmatics (ATS criteria) and 30 healthy volunteers underwent 24-hour ambulatory esophageal monitoring, manometry, autonomic function testing and GER symptom assessment. 27 asthmatics underwent gastroscopy. A vagal function score calculated from 3 tests (valsalva maneuver, heart rate response to deep breathing and to standing from supine position) was correlated with esophageal function parameters.


Asthmatics (mean age 34.8 (SD 8.4), 60% female) had more frequent GERD symptoms than controls (mean age 30.9 (SD 7.7), 50% female). 10/27 asthmatics had esophageal mucosal damage, 22 showed hypervagal response, none had a hyperadrenergic response. 14 asthmatics had ineffective esophageal motility. Higher GERD-score asthmatics had significantly fewer peristaltic and more simultaneous contractions than controls, and higher esophageal acid contact times than those with lower scores. All reflux parameters were significantly higher and acid clearance time prolonged in asthmatics than controls (p < 0.001, Mann–Whitney U test). There was no correlation between vagal function score and esophageal function parameters.


A cohort of adult asthmatics was found to have peristaltic dysfunction and pathological GER, but otherwise normal esophageal motility. The peristaltic dysfunction seems to be associated with vagal hyperreactivity rather than vagal hypofunction.