POEM vs Surgical Myotomy for Achalasia -Randomized Trial

A recent randomized trial (YB Werner et al. NEJM 2019; 381: 2219-29) compared peroral endoscopic myotomy (POEM) and laparoscopic Heller’s myotomy (LHM) for idiopathic achalasia in 221 patients.

Key findings:

  • Clinical success at 2-year followup was observed in 83% in the POEM group and 82% in the LHM group. Clinical success was defined as Eckardt score of 3 or less without the use of additional treatments.
  • Serious adverse events occurred in 2.7% of POEM group and 7.3% of LHM group
  • At 3 months following procedure, 57% of the POEM group and 20% of LHM group had reflux esophagitis; the rates were 44% and 29% at 2 years, respectively.

My take: This study demonstrates similar outcomes between POEM and LHM.  As a practical matter, local expertise is likely a crucial component in choosing between these options.

Related blog posts:

EPT for Achalasia

EPT or esophageal pressure topography (using high-resolution manometry) can help predict outcomes for achalasia (Gastroenterol 2013; 144: 718-25, editorial 681-83).

Background:  Patients with achalasia often present with dysphagia, chest pain, and regurgitation.  These symptoms result from impaired lower esophageal sphincter relaxation and aperistalsis.  While the main treatment has focused on disruption of the sphincter, esophageal body pressures may be important in long-term outcomes.

Three patterns of esophageal body pressures with achalasia:

  • type 1 absence of peristalsis and minimal pressurization
  • type 2 absence of peristalsis with panesophageal pressurization (≥30 mm Hg)
  • type 3 evidence of spasm

According to the cited study which reviewed data from 176 patients in the European achalasia trial (time period: 2003-2008, 18-75 year old), success rates were better with type 2 achalasia (96%, n=114) compared with type 1 (81%, n=44) or type 3 (66%, n=18).

In addition, the EPT findings may influence treatment selection.  Pneumatic dilation (PD) was more successful than Heller myotomy (HM) for type 2 patients (100% vs. 93%, p < 0.05).  However, HM was considered successful more frequently for patients with type 3 achalasia (86% vs. 40% –though not statistically significant due to small numbers).  For type 1, no significant difference was noted between HM and PD at 2 year followup, 81% vs. 85% respectively.

The commentary discusses some of the pertinent issues.   For example, HM may be better than PD among type 1 patients; the exclusion of patients with severe dilatation of esophagus.

Take-home message (from editorial) “The task at hand is to determine whether these distinct categories truly matter in clinical practice…it seems that the subtypes of achalasia do have prognostic value…we …need to determine…whether subtypes can inform treatment options.”