Introduction There are two types of problems that
Occasional difficulty swallowing can make it hard for food and liquids to
(dysphagia) usually isn’t cause for concern, travel down your esophagus: Something is
and may simply occur when you eat too fast blocking your throat or esophagus. This
or don’t chew your food well enough. But may happen if you have:
persistent difficulty swallowing may indicate · Gastroesophageal reflux disease
a serious medical condition requiring (GERD). When stomach acid backs
treatment. up regularly into your esophagus, it
Dysphagia is usually a sign of a problem can cause scars to form. These scars
with your esophagus—the muscular tube can make your esophagus narrower.
that moves food and liquids from the back · Esophagitis. This is inflammation of
of your mouth to your stomach. Although the esophagus. This can be caused by
dysphagia can happen to anyone, it is most different problems, such as having an
common in older adults, premature babies, infection or getting a pill stuck in the
and people with problems of the brain or esophagus. It can also be caused by an
nervous system. allergic reaction to food or things in the
There are many different problems that air.
can prevent the esophagus from working · Esophageal webs. These occur when
properly. Some of these are minor, while thin pieces of tissue stick out from the
others are more serious. If you have a hard walls of the esophagus.
time swallowing once or twice, you probably · Diverticula. These are small sacs in the
do not have a medical problem. But if you walls of the esophagus or the throat.
have trouble swallowing on a regular basis, · Esophageal tumors. These growths in
you may have a more serious problem that the esophagus may be cancerous or
needs treatment. not cancerous.
· Some type of food or object stuck in
Causes of Dysphagia your throat or esophagus. Older
Normally, the muscles in your esophagus people with dentures may have
contract to move food and liquids from your problems chewing food properly
mouth to your stomach without problems. before they swallow. Young children will
Sometimes, though, food and liquids have sometimes swallow small objects that
trouble getting to your stomach. can get stuck in the esophagus.
· Masses outside the esophagus, such · Sensation of food getting stuck in
as lymph nodes or tumors, that press your throat or chest, or behind your
on your esophagus. breastbone (sternum)
The muscles and nerves that help move · Pressure or pain in your chest
food from the throat down the esophagus · Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
are not working right. This can happen if · Frequent heartburn
you have: · Food or stomach acid backing up into
· Had a stroke or a brain or spinal cord your throat
injury. · Gurgling sound in your throat
· Certain problems with your nervous · Unexpected weight loss
system, such as achalasia, post-polio In infants and children, signs and
syndrome, multiple sclerosis, muscular symptoms of swallowing difficulties may
dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease. include:
· An immune system problem that · Lack of attention during feeding
causes swelling and weakness, such or meals
as polymyositis or dermatomyositis. · Tensing of the body during feeding
· Esophageal spasm. This means that · Refusing to eat foods of different
the muscles of the esophagus suddenly textures
squeeze. Sometimes this can prevent · Lengthy feeding or eating times
food from reaching the stomach. (30 minutes or longer)
· Scleroderma. In this condition, tissues · Food or liquid leaking from the mouth
of the esophagus become hard and · Coughing or gagging during feeding
narrow. Scleroderma can also make or meals
the lower esophageal muscle weak, · Spitting up or vomiting during
which may cause food and stomach feeding or meals
acid to come back up into your throat · Inability to coordinate breathing with
and mouth. eating and drinking
Sometimes doctors can find no reason · Poor weight gain or growth
for dysphagia, even though it can have many If you have problems breathing because
causes. In some people, dysphagia is just something is stuck in your throat or chest,
a result of aging. As people get older, all of call 911 immediately. If you have had
their muscles can get weaker, including the difficulty swallowing for more than 1 week,
esophagus. call your doctor.
Symptoms of Dysphagia Treatment
Signs and symptoms sometimes Treatment for swallowing difficulties is
associated with dysphagia may include: often tailored to the particular type or cause
· Pain while swallowing (odynophagia) of your swallowing disorder.
· Not being able to swallow at all Esophageal dysphagia—This is the most
· Choking or coughing while eating common type of swallowing difficulties.
It refers to the sensation of food sticking or Oropharyngeal dysphagia—Certain
getting hung up in the base of your throat neuromuscular problems can weaken your
or chest. throat muscles, making it difficult to move
· For a tight esophageal sphincter food from your mouth into your throat
(achalasia) or an esophageal stricture, and esophagus. You may choke or cough
your doctor may use an endoscope when you attempt to swallow, or have the
with a special balloon attached to sensation of food or fluids going down your
gently stretch and expand the width windpipe or up your nose.
of your esophagus (dilatation). · For oropharyngeal dysphagia, your
· For an esophageal tumor or doctor will most likely refer you to
pharyngeal diverticula, you may need a throat specialist or neurologist for
surgery to clear your esophageal path. further diagnostic testing and to a
speech or swallowing specialist for
· Difficulty swallowing associated with
therapy. Certain exercises may help
GERD can be treated with prescription
coordinate your swallowing muscles
oral medications to reduce stomach
or restimulate the nerves that trigger
acid after a stricture is dilated. You
the swallowing reflex. You may also
may need to take these medications
learn simple ways to place food in
for an extended period of time.
your mouth or to position your
· If you have esophageal spasm but body and head to help you swallow
your esophagus appears normal and successfully.
without GERD, you may be treated
with medications to relax your
esophagus and reduce discomfort. Sources: Webmd & Mayo Clinic
“If you have dysphagia, a certified
speech-language pathologist can help you by
providing many services to diagnose and treat
this potentially life-threatening disorder.”
Memorial Speech-Language Pathologist
The information provided is not meant to diagnose or treat a possible health problem.
For more information about swallowing disorders, contact your health care provider.
To find a physician, please call:
Memorial Physician Referral Service
(228) 865-3627 or (228) 867-4022
Memorial Neurosciences & Rehabilitation
Please join us every Monday night during the news at 6 p.m. on
WLOX TV-13 for the latest wellness and prevention information.
For a listing of the programming for the month, transcripts of each show,
and additional information about each topic,
visit us online:
Thanks for watching Memorial Health & You!
4500 Thirteenth Street · Gulfport, MS 39501 · (228) 867-4000