Difficulty In Swallowing Food: Causes And Treatment For Dysphagia

Dysphagia or the difficulty to swallow food means that it takes greater time and effort for the food or liquid to move from the mouth to the stomach. Occasionally, some people cannot swallow at all.

Difficulty in swallowing sometimes isn’t a cause for worry and may occur when you eat too fast or do not chew properly.

However, continual, long drawn difficulty in swallowing indicates a serious medical condition.

Difficulty in swallowing is characterized by:

  • Not able to swallow.
  • Pain whilst swallowing.
  • Sensation that the food gets stuck in the throat or chest.
  • Reflux of food or stomach acid.
  • Coughing or gagging while swallowing.
  • Inexplicable weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Drooling
  • Heartburn

What Causes Difficulty In Swallowing Food?

Esophageal causes:

  • Achalasia: When the LES or the lower esophageal sphincter fails to relax adequately, to allow the food to enter the stomach.
  • Neurological disorders: Certain medical conditions, such as, multiple sclerosis, post polio syndrome, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease, may first become apparent due to oro-pharyngeal dysphagia.
  • Diffuse spasm: When there occur multiple, high-pressure, poorly coordinated contractions of the esophagus, it affects swallowing adversely.
  • Stricture of the esophagus: Narrowing of the esophagus causes pieces of food to get caught.
  • Tumors of the esophagus: A mass or tumor makes swallowing difficult and gets progressively worse.
  • Foreign bodies: Certain foods, such as, a large chunk of meat, or another object may occlude the esophagus partially.
  • Esophageal ring: A thin area of constriction in the lower aspect of the esophagus may intermittently cause difficulty in swallowing solid foods.
  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease: When stomach acid regurgitates back in to the esophagus due to GERD, it leads to spasm or scarring and constriction of the lower portion of the esophagus, making it very difficult to swallow.
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis: Inflammation of the esophagus may be linked to a food allergy and occurs due to an over population of cells known as eosinophils, in the esophagus and causes difficulty in swallowing.
  • Scleroderma: Typified by the development of scar like tissue, resulting in stiffening and hardening of the esophageal tissues. This weakens the LES or the lower esophageal sphincter, causing the stomach acid to reflux in to the esophagus and trigger frequent heartburn.
  • Radiation therapy: This cancer treatment causes inflammation and scarring of the esophagus, resulting in difficulty swallowing.

Oropharyngeal Causes Of Dysphagia

  • Neurological damage such as, brain or spinal cord trauma, stroke, etc. can cause difficulty while swallowing.
  • Pharyngeal diverticula: A tiny pouch forms and it collects food particles in the throat, just above the esophagus, causing difficulty in swallowing, along with a host of other symptoms.
  • Cancer: Some cancers cause difficulty in swallowing.

How To Treat Swallowing Problems Or Dysphagia?

Follow these simple guidelines to manage dysphagia:

  • You need to alter your eating habits. Consume small, frequent meals. Cut your food in to small pieces, and eat slowly.
  • Steer clear of those foods that cause you more trouble. Thin liquids, like, coffee and juices, are a problem for some. Sticky foods, like, peanut butter or caramel, make swallowing difficult.
  • Stay away from tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, given that, they aggravate the heartburn.
  • Confer with a counselor; he will help you to deal with the effects of swallowing difficulties. You may also find some help in a support group.

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