Dysphagia is a medical condition that makes swallowing food, liquids, or saliva difficult or impossible. A person with dysphagia may experience coughing, choking, drooling, or a burning sensation in the throat. They may also have problems with speech.
Dysphagia can be life-threatening when it causes food or liquids to enter the lungs. It can lead to pneumonia, gastric ulcers, or death if not treated.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for the average person to find themselves choking on food or liquids. But for those with dysphagia, this is a more common occurrence and can be a serious issue. Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder affecting people of all ages, mostly adults. A complex process, swallowing is an intricate dance of muscles, nerves, and the brain.
The two main players in this process are the throat and oesophagus (food pipe).
The throat is responsible for the initial breakdown of food. Once the food has been broken down, it moves on to the oesophagus, where it is pushed toward the stomach by a muscle called the oesophageal sphincter.
Of course, all of it is coordinated by the brain. Dysphagia is a condition that affects this swallowing process. This can make eating a daily struggle. The swallowing disorder can affect the throat, pharynx, or oesophagus.
Listed below are the two main dysphagia types:
- Oropharyngeal dysphagia: The swallowing disorder of the mouth or throat.
- Oesophageal dysphagia: The swallowing disorder of the oesophagus.
It’s important to know the signs of dysphagia so patients can get help as soon as possible. Common dysphagia symptoms include difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food and drink, coughing, chest pain, and choking.
Other dysphagia symptoms are:
- Persistent drooling
- A gurgly sound while drinking or eating.
- A sensation similar to food particles stuck in the chest or throat.
- Repeated chest infections and weight loss over time.
- Frequent heartburn
- Gagging or coughing while swallowing.
- Recurring pneumonia (happens when food particles keep entering the lungs instead of the oesophagus).
Anyone experiencing any symptoms of dysphagia must consult with a doctor as soon as possible.
Dysphagia can be caused by various things, such as diseases, injuries, and even pregnancy. It can be a very serious condition that often requires medical attention.
Here are the common dysphagia causes:
- Diseases: Dysphagia can be caused by diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and cancer.
- Injuries: Head traumas can lead to dysphagia.
- Pregnancy dysphagia: The body’s normal functions change during pregnancy, and it can often cause swallowing difficulties.
- Eating disorders: Dysphagia can also occur due to certain eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. These are usually related to psychological factors rather than physiological ones.
- Narrowing of the oesophagus: This may happen due to tumours, acid reflux, or a swollen thyroid gland.
- Muscle disorders: Muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis are two muscle disorders that cause dysphagia.Muscular dystrophy is a disease that causes the muscles to weaken. This weakening of the muscles can create problems with movement, speech, and swallowing.On the other hand, myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness and paralysis.
Typical tests for dysphagia diagnosis include:
The esophagram is a radiology procedure that provides a three-dimensional view of the oesophagus.
It is a non-invasive procedure in which the patient is given barium suspension that coats the interior of the oesophagus. The barium is then x-rayed.
It is the most common procedure for examining the nasal and throat passages.
The procedure is performed with a laryngoscope, a long, lighted tube inserted through the mouth and passed down the throat.
Fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES)
It is a test to see how well the patient swallows.
The doctor passes an endoscope through the nose and down into the throat to see the swallowing muscles and how they work.
This dysphagia diagnosis technique is used to examine the oesophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine by using a thin, flexible tube.
To treat dysphagia, we first determine what’s causing it. In many cases, it’s not possible to cure the swallowing disorder. But it’s possible to manage it.
Dysphagia treatment may include the following:
- Surgery to widen the oesophagus.
- Speech and language therapy.
- Intake of food through a feeding tube (in severe cases).
- Antibiotics to treat infections.
- Medications to control acid reflux.
- Other medical therapy for neurological conditions.
- Eliminating foods from the diet that are difficult to chew.
Most of the dysphagia causes cannot be prevented. However, it’s important to chew food well and eat slowly to avoid severe swallowing complications.
Moreover, it’s best to consult a doctor for dysphagia treatment if a person is already experiencing the symptoms.
Dysphagia is a debilitating condition and can be fatal. Timely medical intervention is necessary to avoid severe complications like pneumonia, choking, and malnutrition.
For precise diagnosis and dysphagia treatment, visit the CK Birla Hospital and book an appointment with Dr Vijay Verma.