Vocal cord dysfunction concurrent with a nutcracker esophagus and the role of gastroesophageal reflux disease

Wudthichai Suttithawil, Suriya Chakkaphak, Pariyanan Jaruchinda, Ratanaporn Fuangtong
Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2006, 96 (2): 373-5

BACKGROUND: Psychological disorders were originally thought to be the sole cause of vocal cord dysfunction (VCD). Subsequently, other organic diseases, including structural laryngeal abnormalities, have also been reported to be associated with VCD.

OBJECTIVES: To describe the first patient with VCD concurrent with a nutcracker esophagus and to establish the association between VCD and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by using the Bernstein test.

METHODS: Symptom assessments, neuropsychiatric evaluations, fiberoptic laryngoscopy, pulmonary function tests, allergic skin prick tests, radiographs of the chest and sinuses, esophageal manometry (including 24-hour ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring), and the Bernstein test were performed.

RESULTS: A 36-year-old woman had dyspnea, hoarseness, chest pain, and wheezes without relief for a decade. Neuropsychiatric evaluations disclosed mild depression. Fiberoptic laryngoscopy showed posterior laryngitis and paradoxical vocal cord adduction with audible inspiratory stridor. Pulmonary function tests showed attenuation of the inspiratory limb with notching in both flow-volume loops and a mid-vital capacity expiratory to inspiratory flow ratio of 4. All the symptoms except chest pain were improved dramatically by speech therapy and empirical treatment for GERD. Esophageal manometry revealed a nutcracker esophagus; 24-hour ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring demonstrated multiple short reflux episodes. The Bernstein test was conducted, and all the manifestations were reproduced with 0.1 N hydrochloric acid but not with isotonic sodium chloride infusion.

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first human case report confirming that GERD can trigger an acute attack of VCD and may induce chest pain as a nutcracker esophagus in patients with VCD. It strengthens this association and expands our knowledge of diverse manifestations of this clinical entity.

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