Difficulty Swallowing: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Difficulty Swallowing: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment | HealthSoul

How often do you think about the act of swallowing? For many of us, it’s like second nature, like breathing. Not much thought goes into it. Did you know the process of swallowing is quite complicated, though? In fact, it requires perfect communication between many different nerves, your brain, muscles, and your esophagus to work right. Unfortunately, some pieces of the puzzle do not always work well together.When this happens, individuals may experience difficulty swallowing. 

Difficulty swallowing, otherwise known as dysphagia, is a condition that makes it difficult to swallow liquids and foods. People who suffer from dysphagia are at an increased risk of choking and should seek medical attention if they suspect they may have the condition.

What is Difficulty Swallowing?

Difficulty Swallowing Causes

There are two different types of dysphagia your doctor may diagnose you with, including oropharyngeal and esophageal. Oropharyngeal involves disorders in the muscles and nerves in your throat. The disorders weaken your throat muscles over time, making it more difficult to swallow food and drinks without choking. Certain conditions linked to oropharyngeal dysphagia include:

  • GERD
  • Heartburn
  • Epiglottitis
  • Esophagitis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Nerve Damage
  • Post-Polio Syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Esophageal, Neck, or Head Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Infectious Mononucleosis

Esophageal dysphagia results from the following:

  • Lower Esophageal Spasms
  • Tightness in the Lower Esophagus
  • Foreign Items Stuck in the Throat or Esophagus
  • Swelling or Narrowing of the Esophagus
  • Scar Tissue in the Esophagus

Difficulty Swallowing Causes

Difficulty Swallowing Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms associated with either type of dysphagia, including:

  • Drooling
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Regurgitation
  • Feeling as Though Something Is Stuck in Your Throat
  • Sudden Weight Loss
  • Heartburn
  • Coughing While Swallowing
  • Painful Swallowing
  • Difficulty Chewing
  • Loss of Appetite

Difficulty Swallowing Symptoms

Difficulty Swallowing Diagnosis

If you have difficulty swallowing, discuss your symptoms with your doctor, so he or she can diagnose you properly and map out a treatment plan. During your appointment, your doctor will perform a physical examination and check for signs of swelling and other abnormalities. Additionally, he or she may recommend additional testing, including the following:

  • Barium X-ray
  • Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Evaluation
  • Endoscopy
  • Manometry

Difficulty Swallowing Treatment

While there are no ways to prevent certain types of dysphagia, there are treatment options available. Depending on the scope and severity of your condition, your doctor may refer you to a speech pathologist. After evaluating your condition, the speech pathologist may offer the following recommendations:

  • Swallowing Exercises to Strengthen Muscles
  • Diet Modification
  • Compensatory Swallowing Strategies
  • Posture Modifications While Eating or Drinking

In more extreme cases where swallowing problems persist even after meeting with a speech pathologist, you may begin to suffer from dehydration or malnutrition. Persistent dysphagia may also result in other serious and life-threatening conditions, such as aspiration pneumonia and respiratory infections. 

Difficulty Swallowing Prognosis

If you’re experiencing difficulty swallowing, your prognosis depends on a variety of factors, including what type of dysphagia you have and what other conditions you may have. Depending on your condition, you may benefit from simple muscle-strengthening exercises. However, if your swallowing difficulties are the result of debilitating conditions, such as Parkinson’s, you may have to explore ways to cope with your dysphagia rather than cure it.