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Dysphagia is the term used to describe difficulty swallowing. The term can be broken down into two parts – “dys” meaning difficulty and “phag” meaning eating.
For some people affected by the condition, the difficulty swallowing may be restricted to food only, while others may also have difficulty with liquids and some people are unable to swallow altogether.
Typical symptoms of this condition include coughing or choking when eating or drinking, a sensation of food being lodged in the throat or chest and a tendency to regurgitate food. Dysphagia often makes eating challenging, meaning the affected individual has difficulty taking in sufficient calories and nutrients. Eventually, dysphagia may lead to weight loss, recurring chest infections and other serious complications.
Although dysphagia can affect anyone, it is more likely to affect babies, older adults or people with a brain or nervous system disorder. The condition usually arises due to a problem in the throat (oropharyngeal dysphagia) or esophagus (esophageal dysphagia).
In cases of oropharyngeal dysphagia, material from the oropharynx is not properly emptied into the esophagus and patients report difficulty swallowing, nasal regurgitation, and breathing in food, which causes coughing. This form of dysphagia usually occurs in people who have a nervous system disorder or a condition that affects the skeletal muscles.
Esophageal dysphagia describes difficulty in moving food down the esophagus, usually due to an obstruction of some type or a motility disorder.
Further examples are given below of conditions that can prevent the muscles and nerves working well enough to pass food through the throat and esophagus.
Examples of conditions that may cause an obstruction in the esophagus are given below
Dysphagia is diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examinations. A doctor may also want to check the patient’s muscle strength, speech and reflexes. The patient may then be referred onto another specialist which could be any one of the following:
In order to establish the exact cause of a patient’s dysphagia, a consultant may arrange for one or more of the following tests:
The treatment approach to dysphagia depends on the underlying cause of the condition and the type of dysphagia the patient is suffering from. The various different aspects to treatment include the following
People can also learn how to position their body in such a way that may make swallowing easier. With treatment, many cases of dysphagia improve, although a cure is not always achieved.