Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing disorders fall under the medical term dysphagia. Most are the result of problems involving either the throat or esophagus. Swallowing disorders are most common in older adults and babies, but can affect people of all ages.

What Causes Swallowing Disorders?

Normally when you are chewing food, the muscles in your throat and esophagus contract to push foods and liquids from your mouth to your stomach. There are two main factors that can prevent this from occurring properly: the muscles and nerves that help move foods along aren’t functioning as they should, or something is blocking your throat or esophagus.

The first scenario may be the result of problems with your nervous or immune system. A variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, scleroderma, esophageal spasm, and stroke can cause these types of issues. The latter may be caused by acid reflux, inflammation of the esophagus, diverticula, lymph nodes, or tumors.

Symptoms of dysphagia include gagging or choking when you swallow; fee

ling like foods or liquids are stuck in your throat or chest; painful swallowing; heartburn; and having foods or liquids come back up through your throat, mouth or nose after you swallow.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor will want to examine you thoroughly and ask questions about your symptoms. Most likely you’ll undergo a barium swallow study or fluoroscopy to determine the cause of your swallowing trouble, and other tests such as x-rays, laryngoscopy, manometry, or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy may be given to help pinpoint the problem.

Treatment includes swallowing and chewing exercises, changing your diet, dilation, endoscopy, surgery, and medications. Feeding tubes are available for those with severe cases who are unable to consume enough food or drink on their own.