Dysphagia - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Generally, we do not even think while eating food or swallowing something. We do not pay attention to how complicated the whole process is. Swallowing requires various nerves, muscles, esophagus, and the brain to work properly. If any of these parts do not work properly, it can make swallowing difficult for you. 


Dysphagia, also known as swallowing difficulty, is a condition in which you have to exert more than normal efforts in swallowing food and liquid from your mouth to stomach. Moreover, it may also cause pain, making it impossible for you to swallow in some cases. Usually, it occurs in babies and the elderly population but it can occur in adults as well. Dysphagia itself is a symptom of any underlying cause. If it occurs once or twice, it may be alright. But if it happens repeatedly, you should get checked as soon as possible by a healthcare provider. Treatment of dysphagia varies from condition to condition. It depends on the underlying cause. The healthcare providers tend to treat the underlying condition causing it, eventually, dysphagia resolves on its own. 


Symptoms 


The other symptoms associated with dysphagia can be;


  • Painful swallowing- a condition known as odynophagia

  • Inability to swallow food or water

  • Having the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest or behind your breastbone (sternum)

  • Excessive drooling

  • Voice getting hoarse

  • Bringing food back up- also known as food regurgitation

  • A frequent complaint of heartburn and acidity

  • A feeling of getting stomach acid back up into your throat

  • Unintentional losing weight

  • Coughing while swallowing 

  • The occurrence of gagging reflex while swallowing

  • A need to cut food into smaller pieces to swallow easily

  • Avoid eating certain foods because of trouble swallowing


Types 


Generally, there are three types of dysphagia. They can be described as;


Oral dysphagia, also known as high dysphagia, is a condition in which the problem is in the mouth. It can occur due to a weakness in the tongue due to stroke. 


Pharyngeal dysphagia- difficulty in swallowing that occurs due to a problem in the throat. It can occur due to neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or stroke.


Esophageal dysphagia, also known as low dysphagia- a condition in which difficulty in swallowing occurs due to problems in the esophagus. It often occurs due to blockage that needs surgical intervention. 


Causes 


Swallowing is a complex job. It requires various nerves, muscles, esophagus, and the brain to work properly. If any of these parts do not work properly, it can make swallowing difficult for you. There can be various causes for swallowing difficulty. 


The cause for esophageal dysphagia can be;


  • Achalasia- a condition in which the lower sphincter of the esophagus does not open and does not let the food enter the stomach

  • Diffuse spasm in the esophagus 

  • Tumors

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

  • Eosinophilic esophagitis

  • Scleroderma 

  • Exposure to radiation therapy for the treatment of cancers


Oropharyngeal dysphagia may occur due to reasons like;


  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Muscular dystrophy 

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Stroke 

  • Spinal cord injury 

  • Pharyngoesophageal diverticulum (Zenker's diverticulum)- a condition in which a pouch forms inside your throat and collects food

  • Cancer

  • Exposure to radiation therapy for the treatment of cancers


Risk Factors 


The risk factors for dysphagia can be; 


  • Increasing age

  • Certain neurological conditions like stroke or Parkinson's disease


Treatment 


The treatment for dysphagia depends on the condition causing it. The healthcare providers will treat the underlying condition. Also, they may advise you to drink plenty of fluids and follow the right tips. 


Conclusion 


Dysphagia, also known as swallowing difficulty, is a condition in which you have to exert more than normal efforts in swallowing food and liquid from your mouth to stomach. Moreover, it may also cause pain, making it impossible to swallow in some cases. Usually, it occurs in babies and the elderly population but it can occur in adults as well. Dysphagia itself is a symptom of any underlying cause. If it occurs once or twice, it may be alright. But if it happens repeatedly, you should get checked as soon as possible by a healthcare provider.


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