Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)
What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia typically refers to difficulty swallowing foods, liquids, and sometimes even saliva. Other symptoms may include:
- Coughing, gagging, or choking whilst swallowing
- Throat or chest pain, or pressure in your chest
- Pain while swallowing
- Food and liquid becoming struck in the throat
- A need to drink fluid to get the food to go down
- A need to swallow multiple times
- Food or liquid regurgitating into the throat, mouth, or nose
- Weight loss or dehydration
Finding it difficult to swallow when you’re eating a meal isn’t something to be taken lightly. Our gastrointestinal team at PIMS are experts at diagnosing and treating Dysphagia.
What can cause Dysphagia?
Each time you swallow, the muscles making up your food pipe, or oesophagus, contract in a coordinated manner. These muscles receive signals from the brain when you swallow, and this automatically makes them start squeezing and pushing down the food or drink (peristalsis).
With Dysphagia, either the oesophageal muscles aren’t working correctly, the brain isn’t sending the signals correctly, or there is a structural issue with the oesophagus.
Dysphagia can be caused by:
- Inflammation (oesophagitis)
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Tumours of the oesophagus or surrounding structures
- Bone spurs (osteophytes) arising from the spine
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- Muscle spasms in the oesophagus
- Hardening and narrowing of the oesophagus (scleroderma)
- A dry mouth or inadequate saliva production
- Allergic reactions
- Oesophageal diverticula (small sacs in the walls of the oesophagus)
- Neurological problems (including stroke or spinal cord injury)
How is Dysphagia treated?
If Dysphagia comes from inflammation, heartburn, or GORD, it is often treated with medications.
Some patients may benefit from oesophageal dilation. With this procedure, your gastroenterologist places an instrument down your throat and into the oesophagus and gently stretches any narrow parts of your oesophagus.
Surgery to correct Dysphagia is occasionally needed. This may include removal of the blockage (tumour or diverticula), or the surgically repair your lower oesophageal muscle. In more severe cases of dysphagia, a feeding tube may be inserted, to ensure that you receive adequate nutrition.