Swallowing difficulties are common, as everyone occasionally has trouble getting food down. The problem is usually temporary and not threatening. For some people, however, this is a chronic issue. Medical experts refer to a chronic swallowing disorder as dysphagia – and it reflects the difficulty in easily swallowing foods or liquids.
Older adults and those with neurological disorders are most prone to chronic swallowing problems. As there may be a serious problem requiring treatment, anyone who has difficulty swallowing on a regular basis should consult their physician as dysphagia can lead to further health complications.
Dysphagia is a condition in which the throat’s muscles, nerves or anatomy has developed an abnormality in the swallowing process. Your throat muscles are designed to move food from your mouth to your stomach, but that mechanism can develop problems. If there is an obstruction in the throat, for example, swallowing is affected. This might be caused by swelling and inflammation in the esophagus, anatomical narrowing caused by a tumor or failures of the nervous system caused by a stroke or spinal cord injury.
Every case is different, and swallowing problems can range from mild to severe, often getting worse over time. Symptoms can include:
Inability to get food or drink down with one attempt.
A feeling that food is stuck in the throat.
Choking, coughing or gagging when you swallow.
Food or liquids aren’t fully swallowed, and come back up.
Experiencing pain when you swallow.
Discomfort in the throat or chest.
Heartburn, chest pain or pressure.
Unexplained weight loss.
Every swallowing condition is different, and treatment will vary. However, it typically includes:
Switching to softer foods that are easier to swallow
Therapy with exercises to re-train your swallowing muscles (for brain, muscle or nerve disorders).
Dilation of your esophagus to expand narrow areas.
Endoscopy or surgery. If an object is blocking your esophagus, you may need a procedure to remove that object.
Medication to treat heartburn or esophagitis, if necessary.
Rarely, a doctor may find it necessary to prescribe a feeding tube for someone with severe dysphagia to ensure they get sufficient food and liquids.
To find out more about our Swallowing Issues/Dysphagia services, visit Dr. Friedman’s office locations at 7600 E. Camelback Road, Suite #7, Scottsdale, Arizona 85251 and 903 N. Beeline Highway, Suite A, Payson, Arizona 85541, or book an appointment by calling 480-664-0125 today.