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Difficulty Swallowing

Difficulty in swallowing is a condition where you cannot swallow food or liquids easily. This may lead to choking on the food or liquid you try to swallow.

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Let us learn more about this debilitating condition from the following paragraphs.

Symptoms of Difficulty in Swallowing

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Drooling
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing
  • Recurrent heartburn
  • Sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest
  • Unexplained weight loss

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What is Difficulty in Swallowing?

Difficulty swallowing is medically called as dysphagia. It may include problems starting a swallow. This is called as oropharyngeal dysphagia. One may get a feeling of food being stuck in their neck or chest. This condition is called as esophageal dysphagia. Thus, when one complains of difficulty in swallowing, the doctor will first determine whether the cause is oropharyngeal or esophageal.

What Causes Difficulty in Swallowing?

There are a number of causes for swallowing difficulty. Most of these causes are temporary and get better with treatment. In rare cases, difficulty swallowing may indicate a neurological disorder or tumor.

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Some of the causes of difficulty in swallowing include:

  • Swollen tongue
  • Swelling in the esophagus due to an infection
  • Dry throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Esophageal reflux disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Age-related dysphagia

Neurological conditions that can lead to difficulty in swallowing include:

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Some may suffer from congenital or developmental conditions that leads to dysphagia.

An obstruction or narrowing of the esophagus may also make swallowing difficult.

  • Obstruction due to throat cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Laryngeal or esophageal cancer
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis
  • Gastro-esophageal disease (GERD)
  • Tuberculosis or thrush infections that causes inflammation of the esophagus

Muscular conditions may affect the throat muscles that help push the food down the esophagus into the stomach. The muscular conditions that may cause dysphagia include:

Tests and Diagnosis

In order to determine the cause for difficulty swallowing, the doctor may order some diagnostic tests. These tests include:

  • X-ray with a contrast material or barium X-ray
  • Dynamic swallowing study
  • Endoscopy to view the esophagus
  • Fiber-optic endoscopic swallowing evaluation (FEES)
  • Mamometry
  • CT Scan / MRI Scan / PET Scan

Treatment for Swallowing Difficulty

Swallowing problems or difficulty in swallowing may get better on its own without treatment in many cases. However, persistent problems may lead to malnutrition and dehydration. Difficulty swallowing may lead to serious problems in infants and the elderly. In such patients, it may lead to pneumonia and serious respiratory infections.

Thus, treatment may include exercises that help your swallowing muscles learn to coordinate or trigger a swallowing reflex. In case of esophageal dysphagia, one may be advised esophageal dilation. In this procedure, a special balloon is attached to the endoscope tube and is inserted into the esophagus. The balloon is gently expanded and helps stretch a tight esophagus.

Those suffering from esophageal tumor, achalasia or pharyngeal diverticula are advised surgery. Medications that helps treat GERD, tuberculosis, infections, etc. are prescribed.

If you suffer from severe dysphagia, you will be given a special liquid diet or may require a feeding tube to help bypass the swallowing mechanism of your body.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: February 14, 2016