Dysphagia refers to a condition where someone experiences difficulty swallowing. This can include problems starting the process of swallowing or the sensation of food being stuck in your neck or chest. It can cause significant discomfort and may affect a person’s ability to eat, drink, and even breathe properly.

Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. It’s usually caused by nerve and muscle problems. Conditions that can cause dysphagia include neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and cancers of the head, neck or esophageal area.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and it might be painful or uncomfortable, be accompanied by weight loss or dehydration due to eating difficulties or cause pneumonia as a result of food entering the lungs rather than the stomach (aspiration pneumonia).


If someone is suffering from this condition, it’s recommended they see a healthcare professional for assessment and treatment, as dysphagia can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Treatments may include exercises, dietary changes, medication, or in more serious cases, surgery.

Causes of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia, or difficulties swallowing, can be caused by a variety of issues:

1. Neurological Disorders: Various neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, stroke, cerebral palsy, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can lead to dysphagia because they can interfere with the brain’s ability to initiate swallowing.

2. Muscular Disorders: Conditions that weaken the muscles involved in swallowing like myasthenia gravis and muscular dystrophy can lead to swallowing difficulties.

3. Structural Abnormalities: Structural issues in the throat or esophagus, such as tumors, diverticulum, or strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), can cause dysphagia by physically obstructing the path of food.

4. Ageing: The muscles used for swallowing can naturally weaken with age, leading to difficulties swallowing especially in the elderly.

5. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux can cause a condition like esophagitis which can lead to swallowing difficulties.

6. Esophageal Spasms: Uncontrolled contractions or spasms in the muscles of the esophagus can interfere with the normal swallowing process.

7. Achalasia: This condition involves the lower esophageal muscle (sphincter) not relaxing appropriately to allow food to enter the stomach, causing dysphagia.

8. Infections: Certain infections can cause swelling and inflammation that interfere with swallowing.

9. Medications: Some medicines can cause a dry mouth or lead to a feeling of tightness in the throat, making it difficult to swallow.

Note: It’s important to see a healthcare professional if you’re having swallowing problems, as dysphagia can be a symptom of a serious underlying condition. Treatment often involves addressing the root cause of the dysphagia.

Risk Factors of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia, or problems with swallowing, can be caused by a variety of conditions and factors. The following are some key risk factors:

1. Age: Elderly people are at a higher risk due to natural degeneration of the muscles and nerves involved in the swallowing process.

2. Neurological and neuromuscular disorders: Conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy can affect the nerves and muscles that facilitate swallowing, therefore increasing the risk of dysphagia.

3. Head and neck conditions: Cancer in the head or neck, injuries, or surgeries in these areas can affect the structures involved in swallowing.

4. Esophageal Conditions: Conditions like esophagitis, diverticula, esophageal stricture or tumors can lead to difficulty in swallowing.

5. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux can damage the esophageal tissue over time, leading to difficulty swallowing.

6. Certain medications: Some types of medicine can cause dry mouth or alter the muscle activity that affects swallowing.

7. Immune system disorders: Conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome or sarcoidosis can lead to swallowing difficulties.

8. Mental health disorders: Conditions such as anxiety or depression can lead to perceived swallowing difficulties known as functional dysphagia or psychogenic dysphagia.

9. Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease: These conditions can cause the loss of the ability to recognize food and forgetfulness on how to chew and swallow.

10. Lifestyle Factors: Smoking and heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth and throat which can lead to dysphagia.

As with any medical condition, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider if you suspect you may be at risk for developing dysphagia. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation and discuss possible treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can manifest itself in various signs and symptoms. Here are some common ones:

1. Pain while swallowing (odynophagia).
2. Difficulty starting the swallowing process, despite having food in the mouth.
3. Sensation of food being stuck in the throat or chest, or behind the breastbone.
4. Drooling or excessive salivation.
5. Hoarseness or change in voice.
6. Frequent heartburn.
7. Sudden weight loss due to eating difficulties.
8. Coughing or choking when eating or drinking, or very soon afterwards.
9. Recurrent pneumonia or chest infections.
10. Gagging or regurgitating food.
11. Bringing food back up (regurgitation).
12. Having to cut food into smaller pieces or avoiding certain foods because of trouble swallowing.
13. Unexplained nasal regurgitation.
14. Unusual fatigue or shortness of breath during meals.
15. Changes in eating habits, such as eating much slower or avoiding social situations involving food.

If you or someone else experience these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible, as dysphagia can be a sign of a serious condition, such as oesophageal cancer, and early detection can lead to better outcomes.

Diagnosis Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia is a medical condition characterized by difficulty swallowing. Individuals with this condition may experience a sensation of food being stuck in the throat, chest, or behind the breastbone. It can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults.

Dysphagia can be associated with various health problems. Neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or a stroke can cause dysphagia. Problems with the esophagus, like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), can also lead to this condition. In some cases, cancers of the throat, esophagus, or stomach may cause swallowing difficulties.

Symptoms can include pain while swallowing, inability to swallow, feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest, drooling, hoarseness, heartburn, unexpected weight loss, and frequent bouts of pneumonia due to aspiration (unintentional inhalation of food particles into the lungs).

Dysphagia is generally diagnosed through various tests such as barium swallow, endoscopy, manometry, or a swallowing study. Its treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include medication, dietary changes, swallowing therapy, or in more severe cases, surgery. As always, medical advice should be sought if one suspects this condition.

Treatment of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can be managed with several types of treatments, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. Here are some common treatments:

1. Swallowing Therapy: This is usually done with a speech or occupational therapist. They will guide you through exercises that train your muscles to swallow more efficiently. It may also include learning new positions or strategies to make swallowing easier and safer.

2. Dietary Changes: Modifying the consistency of food and liquids may alleviate some symptoms of dysphagia. This may involve consuming more soft or pureed foods or thickening liquids to prevent choking.

3. Medication: In some cases, certain types of medication can help, especially if the dysphagia is caused by GERD or esophagitis. Proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers can reduce acid reflux, which may help with this type of swallowing problem.

4. Dilatation: If the dysphagia is caused by a narrowing of the esophagus, a procedure called dilatation may be performed. During dilatation, an instrument is used to stretch or expand the esophagus.

5. Surgery: In more severe cases, or if the dysphagia is caused by a serious condition like cancer, surgery may be required to remove tumors, correct anatomical abnormalities, or to perform a feeding tube placement.

6. Botox Injections: For some types of dysphagia where the muscles in the esophagus are too tight, Botox can be injected into the muscles to relax them.

These treatments are not exclusive, and you may end up using a combination of strategies to handle your dysphagia. Always consult a healthcare professional for advice tailored to your specific condition.

Medications commonly used for Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia is a condition characterized by difficulty swallowing. It’s important to note that the primary line of treatment commonly involves speech and swallowing exercises administered by a speech-language pathologist. In some cases, however, medications may be used as a part of the treatment plan. The medicines don’t cure dysphagia but could be used to manage symptoms related to the underlying cause. They include:

1. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): Examples include omeprazole, lansoprazole. These are used when dysphagia is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by reducing the production of stomach acid that can cause inflammation and damage to the esophagus, worsening swallowing difficulties.

2. Antacids: Over-the-counter medications like calcium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide can neutralize stomach acid and may help alleviate symptoms if GERD is the source.

3. Nitrates and Calcium-Channel Blockers: Medications such as Isosorbide or Nifedipine can help relax the lower esophageal muscles in conditions such as achalasia, where the lower esophagus fails to relax properly, causing swallowing issues.

4. Botulism Toxins: Botox, specifically, can be injected to paralyze the esophageal muscles, which may provide temporary relief from contractions or spasms that can interfere with swallowing.

5. Anti-inflammatory drugs: In certain autoimmune conditions that might cause dysphagia, like eosinophilic esophagitis, steroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation.

6. Antibiotics: If an infection is causing difficulty swallowing, antibiotics may be used to resolve the issue.

7. Antidepressants: Some forms of dysphagia are related to nerve issues that can be managed with certain types of antidepressants such as amitriptyline.


Keep in mind that all medication should be taken under the direct supervision of a healthcare provider who can monitor possible side effects and treatment efficacy. Always consult with your healthcare provider or a professional if you experience difficulty swallowing, as it can be a sign of a serious condition.

Prevention of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Prevention of dysphagia, or swallowing problems, is a multi-step process that primarily revolves around maintaining throat and esophageal health and addressing issues of weakened muscles, nerve damage, or obstructions. Here are some ways to help prevent dysphagia:

1. Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains that promotes good health. Regular exercise can help to keep muscles including those involved in swallowing, strong and functioning properly.

2. Good Posture: Sit up straight when eating or drinking. This allows for a smoother, less obstructed path for food and liquid to pass.

3. Chew Food Thoroughly: This can reduce the chance of large, hard-to-swallow pieces getting stuck.

4. Regular Check-ups: Regular medical check-ups can help detect and treat conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or cancers that could lead to dysphagia.

5. Avoid Irritants: Refrain from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption as they can irritate and damage throat and esophageal lining.

6. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated can lessen the chance of dryness that may make swallowing more difficult.

7. Move Slowly: Avoid rushing through meals. Eating food carefully and slowly can reduce the risk of choking or difficulty in swallowing.

8. Take Care of Oral Health: Good oral hygiene prevents bacteria from entering your digestive tract and causing infection.

9. Get Speech Therapy: If already diagnosed with conditions causing dysphagia, working with a speech-language pathologist can help learn techniques to swallow properly.

Lastly, any symptoms or concerns about dysphagia should be addressed promptly with a healthcare professional to prevent any serious complications. Remember these preventative measures do not guarantee the complete avoidance of dysphagia but can significantly decrease the risk.

FAQ’s about Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

1. What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a medical term that refers to difficulty swallowing. This includes problems with swallowing food, liquid, or saliva, as well as the sensation of food being stuck in the throat or chest.

2. What are the common causes of dysphagia?
Dysphagia can result from a variety of conditions, often related to the nerves and muscles that assist in swallowing. These can include neurological disorders like stroke or Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, gastrointestinal conditions, or age-related changes.

3. What are the symptoms of dysphagia?
Symptoms can include pain while swallowing, inability to swallow, sensation of food getting stuck, drooling, regurgitation, frequent heartburn, sudden weight loss, or a choking sensation.

4. How is dysphagia diagnosed?
Dysphagia is usually diagnosed through a consultation and physical examination by a healthcare professional. The physician may make use of imaging techniques like endoscopy, video fluoroscopy, or barium swallow.

5. What are the treatment options for dysphagia?
Treatment plans may vary depending on the cause and severity but can range from dietary changes and swallowing exercises to medication, surgery, or therapies such as speech and language therapy.

6. Can dysphagia lead to other health complications?
Yes, untreated dysphagia can lead to complications such as dehydration, malnutrition, aspiration pneumonia (an infection that occurs when food or liquid is accidentally inhaled into the lungs), or choking.

7. Can dysphagia be prevented?
While not all cases of dysphagia can be prevented, certain lifestyle changes such as eating slower, chewing food thoroughly, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding excessive alcohol and smoking can decrease the risk of developing swallowing problems.

8. Can exercise improve swallowing function?
Yes, a speech-language pathologist may recommend specific swallowing exercises to strengthen the muscles and improve coordination. However, it’s crucial to only perform these under professional supervision.

Remember, it’s essential to consult your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing consistent difficulty swallowing. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment recommendations.

Useful links

Dysphagia refers to a condition in which an individual has difficulty swallowing. This can result from a multitude of different diseases or conditions such as neurological conditions, cancer, and others. It can have a significant impact on the quality of life and poses risks like malnutrition and aspiration pneumonia.

Here are some journal articles and resources that may help in providing a more comprehensive scope of understanding of dysphagia:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35337544/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37516505/

Please consult with healthcare professionals for individual treatment details. These resources are primarily for educational purposes.

Complications of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can have several complications that are largely dependent on the cause of the condition. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health issues such as:

1. Aspiration Pneumonia: If food or liquids enter the lungs by mistake, they can cause an infection termed as aspiration pneumonia. Dysphagia increases the risk of aspiration because the condition interferes with the normal swallowing mechanism.

2. Malnutrition and Dehydration: When a person has difficulty swallowing, they might not eat or drink enough due to fear of choking or pain. This can lead to malnutrition and dehydration, which can further complicate their overall health situation.

3. Weight Loss: Persistent dysphagia often results in the affected individuals eating less to avoid the discomfort of swallowing. Over time, this can lead to significant weight loss.

4. Choking: A serious complication of dysphagia is the risk of choking. When food or liquid isn’t properly swallowed, it can block the airway and potentially cause suffocation.

5. Reduced Quality of Life: People with dysphagia may find it difficult to enjoy meals or socialize involving food and drink. This can lead to isolation, depression, and a generally diminished quality of life.

6. Development or exacerbation of other health problems: Difficulty swallowing can also exacerbate other health conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In some cases, dysphagia can be a sign of more serious illnesses like cancer or neurological disorders. Always remember that timely medical help is crucial in managing dysphagia and its complications. Treatment options vary widely, depending on the underlying reason for the condition and the severity of symptoms.

Home remedies of Dysphagia (swallowing problems)

Here are some home remedies you could try to manage dysphagia, these suggestions are not treatments but rather ways to potentially alleviate the symptoms:

1. Eating Smaller Bites: This can lessen the load on your throat and make swallowing foods easier.

2. Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can ensure the throat remains moist and makes swallowing less burdensome.

3. Eat Softer Foods: Softer foods are generally simpler to swallow. This includes foods like soups, custard, yogurts, or pureed foods.

4. Regular Exercise: Exercises that strengthen your neck and throat muscles may also help improve dysphagia. Please consult a healthcare professional or a speech-language pathologist for appropriate exercises.

5. Adjust Eating Position: Sometimes, swallowing might be easier in different positions, like sitting upright or tilting the head forward.

6. Avoid Stimulants: Alcohol, caffeine and smoking may exacerbate the condition, so it is advisable to restrict their usage.

7. Thicken Liquids: In some cases, adding special thickeners in your drinks can make them easier to swallow.

However, please note that these strategies may not cure dysphagia but might make living with the condition more manageable. It is still highly recommended to consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment if you have any swallowing difficulties. Neglecting these symptoms may lead to serious health complications.

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Common Conditions,

Last Update: January 9, 2024