Lower esophageal sphincter (LES) relaxation is usually interpreted by a subjective, mostly qualitative analysis. We studied sphincter relaxation in humans using a computer program for on-line analysis that provides objective measures of gastric pressure, resting LES pressure, percent of relaxation, residual pressure during relaxation, duration of relaxation, and area of relaxation. The program was validated by comparing computer-analyzed values to mean values obtained from manual readings by five individuals. Excellent correlation was obtained for all standard parameters. The parameters of LES relaxation for both wet and dry swallows were similar using either a carefully placed single recording orifice or a Dent sleeve. The one exception was the duration of LES relaxation, which was significantly shorter with the sleeve. All relaxation parameters and peristaltic velocity were then studied in 10 volunteers during 5 dry and 5 wet swallows under base-line conditions and after both atropine (10 micrograms/kg iv) and bethanechol (40 micrograms/kg sc). These studies showed that LES relaxation is affected by type of swallow (dry vs. wet). Percent of relaxation may not be the best measure of relaxation because it is too dependent on resting pressure. Residual pressure is not dependent on base-line pressure and may better define relaxation. Duration of the relaxation is dependent on the velocity of the peristaltic wave.