Dysphagia is a medical term used to cover several conditions involving chewing and swallowing disorders. People who are suffering from swallowing difficulties can get effective medical help. This is a condition that can happen at any age but happens more as people age. It is important to go to the family physician for diagnosis and treatment.

What Is Dysphagia and What Causes It?

Dysphagia is actually a collection of symptoms and conditions grouped under one name by the medical profession because they are closely related. There are three types of dysphagia. The first is oral dysphasia in the mouth, the second is oropharyngeal dysphagia involving the throat, and the third type is esophageal dysphagia that involves the esophagus.

The causes and treatments for these conditions depend on which areas are affected and what caused the problem. Some common causes are aging, stokes, Parkinson’s disease, other neurological problems, cancer, multiple sclerosis, radiation, cleft palate or lip, and other conditions.

Symptoms That signal Trouble and Call For A Visit To The Doctor

The symptoms that tell a person they should visit their doctor include trouble swallowing, sudden weight loss, choking, coughing, and vomiting when trying to swallow food, painful swallowing or being unable to swallow, drooling, stomach acid backing up into the throat, and having frequent heartburn. When it feels like food is getting stuck in the throat or chest, there may be a problem.

When a patient visits their family physician, the doctor will perform certain tests to determine which type of dysphagia is causing problems and, if possible, determine what the underlying cause is. Then a treatment plan can be designed.

There Are Four Types of Treatments

The promising treatment options for dysphagia fall into four categories:

  • Lifestyle and eating habit changes. A speech-language pathologist can help patients with exercises and therapies to improve muscle and nerve function. There may be strategies to position the head while swallowing. Modifying the feeding environment to eliminate distractions may help. There are also modified utensils plates, cups, and straws to help.
  • Changes to the diet. There are foods that trigger or worsen dysphagia and foods and drinks that are easier to eat with this condition. The diet should be altered to include a well-balanced collection of more easily swallowed foods. Foods and drinks can have their texture modified with thickening liquids such as Simply Thick. This allows liquids and other foods to have an easier texture to swallow. Foods can also be pureed in a blender to make them easier to swallow.
  • There are medications that provide relief from symptoms including Parkinson’s disease medication, Botox, GERD medications, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.
  • Some causes and types of dysphagia require surgery. Surgical procedures can include the insertion of feeding tubes through the nasal passage or directly into the stomach or inserting a plastic or metal tubes or stents to hold the esophagus open. Surgery may involve partial removal of the esophagus to remove damaged parts or cancerous growths. The remaining esophagus is then attached to the stomach. Esophageal dilation is a surgery that involves inserting a small balloon attached to an endoscope into the esophagus to stretch it. The balloon is removed.

Good medical treatment allows people who suffer from dysphagia to live better lives. Their symptoms are reduced, eliminated, or effectively controlled. People who receive treatment avoid complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, excessive weight loss, choking, and aspiration pneumonia.