The pyloric sphincter is a valve that controls the movement of the stomach contents from the stomach into the duodenum at the start of the intestines. It is an important part of the digestive tract that performs a number of functions related to regulating digestion and maintaining the healthy operation of the digestive tract. This portion of the stomach's anatomy is also known as the pyloric valve.
This structure is located in the pylorus, an area at the bottom of the stomach. The pylorus narrows and thickens to create the ring of smooth muscle that is the pyloric sphincter. When contracted, the sphincter holds the stomach contents in the stomach, allowing the digestive juices of the stomach to break them down into a substance known as chyme. When the chyme is ready, the sphincter opens, allowing it to pass into the duodenum for the next stage of the digestive process. If the stomach contents are dumped too early, digestion is disrupted, and people do not receive the full nutritional benefits of the food they consume.
In addition to regulating digestion, the pyloric sphincter also acts to prevent regurgitation from the intestines into the stomach. This is undesirable as it may disrupt stomach activity and could potentially make someone sick. Acting as a one-way gate guard, a healthy sphincter keeps the contents of the digestive tract moving along in one direction only.
People with stomach cancer can develop a blockage in the pylorus that makes digestion difficult. In a condition known as pyloric stenosis, the pyloric sphincter becomes narrowed, limiting the amount of chyme that can pass through. It can also open insufficiently or open at the wrong times, leading to disruption in the person's digestion. Conditions involving the pyloric sphincter can be diagnosed with the assistance of medical imaging studies including endoscopy, a procedure that involves inserting a camera into the body to provide a view of what is happening inside.
People who develop problems with their pyloric sphincters will need to see a specialist to discuss treatment options. Treatments vary, depending on the cause of the problem and the person's general level of health. They can include surgery to remove cancerous growths or address stenosis, along with medications. It is important to receive treatment for conditions involving the gastrointestinal tract, as they can develop into serious problems and create a domino effect in which an initial health problem leads to a cascade of medical issues.