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The term dysphagia refers to difficulty swallowing. In some cases, the difficulty swallowing may be restricted to food only, while in others, liquids are also difficult to swallow. Some people are unable to swallow at all.
Dysphagia is often a symptom of an underlying condition and diagnosis usually involves establishing the cause so that targeted treatment can be arranged.
Some examples of underlying conditions that can cause dysphagia include:
One of the most common causes of dysphagia is obstruction of the upper gastrointestinal tract, which may occur due to:
Dysphagia may also be caused by problems in the esophageal muscles. Examples of these include:
Some examples of the types of test a physician may arrange to evaluate suspected cases of dysphagia include:
Water swallow test - Here, the patient swallows 150 ml of water and the time taken to swallow the water as well as the number of swallows required is recorded.
Videofluoroscopy - This is a form of barium swallow test that involves the continuous recording of a moving X-ray, taken as the patient swallows food or drink mixed with barium. This procedure usually takes about thirty minutes.
Manometry and 24 hour pH study - For this test, a catheter with pressure sensors is passed down the esophaguus and used to measure esophageal function. A tube can also be inserted into the esophagus to measure the amount of acid that flows back (refluxes) from the stomach.
Diagnostic gastroscopy - Also known of as a stomach endoscopy, this procedure involves an endoscope being passed down the esophagus and used to record images. This examination can often reveal the presence of scar tissue or growths caused by acid reflux.