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Dysphagia


People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia can make it hard to swallow food or liquids safely, or to swallow at all. It may feel like food is stuck or moving very slowly down your esophagus.

Dysphagia can occur when the muscles and nerves involved in swallowing do not work correctly. This can be a side effect of the following conditions:

  • Brain disorders and injuries, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, stroke, and muscular dystrophy
  • Diffuse esophageal spasm
  • Immune system problems that cause inflammation or weakness
  • Scleroderma, a condition in which the tissue of the esophagus is hardened and narrowed.

Dysphagia can also result from a blockage in the throat or esophagus. This can occur in these conditions:

  • Esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus
  • Diverticula—pouches in the walls of the esophagus or throat
  • Achalasia
  • Esophageal tumors, both cancerous and non-cancerous
  • Tumors outside the esophagus that press on the esophagus
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the frequent backwash of stomach contents into the esophagus. GERD can cause a stricture, which is a scarring that narrows the esophagus.

In severe cases, dysphagia can cause serious nutritional and medical problems. If you have symptoms of dysphagia, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms

The main symptom of dysphagia is trouble swallowing food or liquids, but there are other symptoms. If you have dysphagia, you may also experience:

  • Gagging, choking, or coughing when you swallow
  • Food coming back up after you swallow (regurgitation)
  • The feeling that food is stuck in your throat or chest
  • Painful swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Unintentional weight loss.

Diagnosis

The medical team at Norton Thoracic Institute will use one or more of the following tests to learn more about your swallowing problem:

  • Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. In this procedure, a flexible tube called an endoscope with a light and camera is passed into your esophagus while you are lightly sedated. Tissue samples (biopsies) may be taken during this exam.
  • Barium swallow to better visualize your condition. During this test, you will drink a thick liquid called barium while you undergo an x-ray. The barium allows the physician to see the esophagus more clearly on an x-ray and to identify any problem areas.
  • Manometry to measure how strong and coordinated the muscles of your esophagus are and to see if the lower esophageal sphincter is working properly. In this test, a thin tube is passed through the mouth or nose into the esophagus.
  • 24-hour pH study to determine how much stomach acid is entering the esophagus.

Treatment

The medical team at Norton Thoracic Institute will develop a treatment plan to meet your individual needs. This may include:

  • Exercises to strengthen facial muscles or improve coordination
  • Diet and medicine modification, such as new ways to prepare your food or a list of foods and medicines to avoid to lessen the effects of dysphagia
  • Dilatation to widen any narrow parts of the esophagus
  • Endoscopy to remove anything stuck in the throat
  • Medicines to treat any underlying conditions, such as GERD or inflammation of the esophagus
  • A stent, an expandable metal mesh tube inserted into the esophagus to create a passage through which food can pass
  • Surgery to remove anything blocking your esophagus, such as a tumor
  • A feeding tube.

Learn More About Dysphagia Services at Norton Thoracic Institute

To learn more about our services, call 602.406.4000.