Dysphagia

If you have a problem swallowing foods or liquids, you may have dysphagia. This condition has a number of causes. Your healthcare provider can find out what is causing your problem and help relieve your symptoms.


Causes of dysphagia

With dysphagia, foods or liquids do not easily pass down the esophagus. Dysphagia may happen if the esophagus walls thicken, causing a narrowing (stricture) of the passage. Dysphagia can also be caused by any of the following:

  • A problem in the esophagus, such as an ulcer, stricture, irritation, infection, inflammation, or cancer

  • Muscles in your mouth, throat, or esophagus that don’t work right or are not coordinated

  • A nerve or brain problem (such as a stroke) that leaves your mouth, tongue, or throat muscles weak or changes how your muscles coordinate

Common symptoms

If you have dysphagia, you may:

  • Feel chest pressure or pain when you swallow

  • Choke or cough when swallowing

  • Vomit after eating or drinking

  • Regurgitate food or liquid out your nose 

  • Aspirate (inhale into the lungs) foods or liquids when you swallow

  • Have fatigue and weight loss

Treatments

A medical evaluation helps your doctor pinpoint the cause of your dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. Your evaluation may include a health history and some special tests. Your doctor will make a treatment plan based on the results of your evaluation. You may need to take medications. In some cases, your doctor may suggest dilation of the esophagus or surgery.

What You Can Do

To help control dysphagia, follow your treatment plan. Take all medications as directed. You also can help lessen your dysphagia symptoms by being careful about what and how you eat.

Medications

You may need medications to:

  • Neutralize or reduce stomach acids

  • Control esophagus muscle spasms

Esophagus Dilation

Dilation is a procedure that your doctor can use to widen the esophagus. It is most often done when a stricture, or narrowing of the esophagus, is causing your dysphagia. There are a number of ways your doctor can widen the esophagus. He or she can discuss them with you.

Eating Tips

  • Eat slowly in a relaxed setting.

  • Don’t talk while you eat.

  • Take small bites and chew slowly and thoroughly

  • Sit in an upright position during and after meals.

  • Ask your doctor about any special diets that may help, such as liquid diets.

  • If you have difficulty swallowing solid foods, you can use a blender to purée them.

  • Thicken liquids with milk, juice, broth, gravy, or starch to make swallowing easier.

Occupational or Speech Therapy

Your doctor may recommend that you have an evaluation or sessions with a speech or occupational therapist. These specialists in dysphagia may give you exercises and instructions to help you eat safely.

See All Treatments

Symptoms and Screenings for Dysphagia

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Causes and Preventions for Dysphagia

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Education and Resources for Dysphagia

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Support groups for Dysphagia

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Learn More about Dysphagia

Vidant Health can connect you to health care professionals to help you understand your condition and guide you through the treatment process. Let’s chat.