Background: Seven years ago, the authors reported on the feasibility and short-term results of minimally invasive surgical methods to treat esophageal achalasia. In this report, they describe the evolution of the surgical technique and the clinical results in a large group of patients with long follow-up.
Patients and Methods: Between January 1991 and October 1998, 168 patients (96 men, 72 women; mean age 45 years, median duration of symptoms 48 months), who fulfilled the clinical, radiographic, endoscopic, and manometric criteria for a diagnosis of achalasia, underwent esophagomyotomy by minimally invasive techniques. Forty-eight patients had marked esophageal dilatation (diameter >6.0 cm). Thirty-five patients had a left thoracoscopic myotomy, and 133 patients had a laparoscopic myotomy plus a partial fundoplication. Follow-up to October 1998 was complete in 145 patients (86%).
Results: Median hospital stay was 72 hours for the thoracoscopic group and 48 hours for the laparoscopic group. Eight patients required a second operation for recurrent or persistent dysphagia, and two patients required an esophagectomy. There were no deaths. Good or excellent relief of dysphagia was obtained in 90% of patients (85% after thoracoscopic and 93% after laparoscopic myotomy). Gastroesophageal reflux developed in 60% of tested patients after thoracoscopic myotomy and in 17% after laparoscopic myotomy plus fundoplication. Laparoscopic myotomy plus fundoplication corrected reflux present before surgery in five of seven patients. Patients with a dilated esophagus had excellent relief of dysphagia after laparoscopic myotomy; none required an esophagectomy.
Conclusions: Minimally invasive techniques provided effective and long-lasting relief of dysphagia in patients with achalasia. The authors prefer the laparoscopic approach for three reasons: it more effectively relieved dysphagia, it was associated with a shorter hospital stay, and it was associated with less postoperative reflux. Laparoscopic Heller myotomy and partial fundoplication should be considered the primary treatment for esophageal achalasia.