What is Dysphagia?

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What is Dysphagia?

If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing this a known as dysphagia, a symptom that often indicates that there is a problem within the esophagus or throat. While dysphagia is more common in older adults and infants, this problem can happen to anyone. You may be dealing with dysphagia if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Feeling as if food is stuck in your throat
  • Persistent choking or gagging whenever eating or drinking
  • Regurgitation (when food travels back up into the throat)
  • Heartburn or acid reflux (a burning sensation in the chest)
  • Vocal changes (e.g. hoarseness)
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Sudden weight loss

Causes of Dysphagia

There are certain conditions that affect the muscles, nerves, throat, or esophagus that can make it more difficult to swallow foods and drinks. Common causes include:

  • Esophageal spasms
  • Nervous system disorders (e.g. multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease)
  • Scleroderma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Esophagitis
  • Diverticula

Diagnosing and Treating Dysphagia

If you are having recurring or persistent painful or difficulty swallowing it’s important that you see a gastroenterologist to find out what’s going on. Your doctor will go through your medical history, asking specific questions surrounding the issues you are dealing with. From there, certain tests will be performed to diagnose dysphagia. These tests include:

  • A barium or traditional X-ray
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Laryngoscopy
  • Esophagoscopy
  • pH monitoring (to measure the amount of acid in the stomach)

Along with providing a diagnosis, it’s important for your GI doctor to be able to pinpoint the root cause of your dysphagia. The cause will determine the type of treatments you receive. Common treatment options include:

  • Altering your eating habits and avoiding certain foods
  • An endoscopy to remove anything lodged in the throat
  • Exercises to strengthen and improve the muscles of the throat and esophagus
  • Medication to control heartburn, esophagitis, or GERD
  • Surgery to remove blockages

The cause of your dysphagia will also determine the prognosis. For example, those whose dysphagia is caused by acid reflux, GERD, or esophageal infections may recover completely from their condition with medication. Of course, chronic dysphagia can also be properly managed through regular monitoring and care from a gastrointestinal specialist.

If you or someone you love is having difficulty swallowing a gastroenterologist can determine the cause of your symptoms quickly. Don’t ignore swallowing problems. Turn to a doctor as soon as possible to find out what’s going on.

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