Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)

When functioning normally, your esophagus moves foods and liquids downward from your mouth to your stomach. Dysphagia is a medical term that describes difficulty swallowing. It is a complex condition that has multiple types, causes, and treatments.

In very simple terms, the two types of dysphagia are distinguished by at what point in the swallowing process the patient experiences difficulty. Having difficulty starting the process of swallowing is called oropharyngeal dysphagia; while feeling that the food is stuck in the throat or chest is called esophageal dysphagia. Once the type of dysphagia is diagnosed testing will be ordered to determine the cause.

And just as there are two types, there are also two broad categories of causes. The first is neurological. Strokes and diseases involving the brain or cranial nerves can interrupt the connection between the brain and the muscles of the mouth, throat, or upper esophagus. This is the most common cause of oropharyngeal dysphagia. The other cause is is structural. This is the most common cause of esophageal dysphagia and includes narrowing of the esophagus from scarring due to repeated acid reflux disease (GERD), tumors, or eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE).

Symptoms of dysphagia also depend on the type or cause, and range from choking to aspiration of food and liquid in the lungs, which can cause pneumonia. Structural issues in the esophagus can causes food get stuck, at times the body will regurgitate the food back up. Your condition should be diagnosed by a gastroenterologist, so make an appointment with Dr. Islam if you think you may have dysphagia.