Difficult Swallowing – Dysphagia
Difficulty swallowing is usually a sign of a problem with your throat or esophagus – the muscular tube that moves foods and liquids from the back of your mouth to your stomach. Although anyone can have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), it is mostly seen in older adults, babies, and people with nervous system disorders.
Dysphagia can come and go, be mild or severe, or get worse over time. If you have dysphagia, you may:
- Have problems getting food or liquids to go down on the first try.
- Gag, choke, or cough when you swallow.
- Have food or liquids come back up through your throat, mouth, or nose after you swallow.
- Feel like foods or liquids are stuck in some part of your throat or chest.
- Have pain when you swallow.
- Have pain or pressure in your chest or have heartburn.
- Lose weight because you are not getting enough food or liquid.
There are several possible causes of dysphagia. Some of these include:
- Disorders of the brain or nervous systems
- Disorders of the muscles in general
- Disorders of the esophagus (a physical blockage or a motility disorder)
If you are having difficulty swallowing, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will want to know if you have trouble swallowing solids, liquids, or both. He or she will also want to know where you think foods or liquids are getting stuck, whether and for how long you have had heartburn, and how long you have had difficulty swallowing. He or she may also check your reflexes, muscle strength, and speech
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your dysphagia. Treatment for dysphagia includes:
- Exercises for your swallowing muscles. If you have a problem with your brain, nerves, or muscles, you may need to do exercises to train your muscles to work together to help you swallow. You may also need to learn how to position your body or how to put food in your mouth to be able to swallow better.
- Changing the foods you eat. Your doctor may tell you to eat certain foods and liquids to make swallowing easier.
- Dilation. In this treatment, a device is placed down your esophagus to carefully expand any narrow areas of your esophagus. You may need to have the treatment more than once.
- Endoscopy. In some cases, a long, thin scope can be used to remove an object that is stuck in your esophagus.
- Medicines. If you have dysphagia related to GERD, heartburn, or esophagitis, prescription medicines may help prevent stomach acid from entering your esophagus. Infections in your esophagus are often treated with antibiotic medicines.