Causes & Treatment for Dysphagia
What is a swallowing disorder?
A swallowing disorder, also known as dysphagia, is a somewhat common disorder affecting about fifteen percent of the U.S. population. It is characterized by discomfort or difficulty swallowing and affects around fifteen million people.
Why is swallowing important?
It is easy to take the act of swallowing for granted, as we do it so often throughout the day. When drinking a glass of water or eating a meal, we seldom even pay attention to the automatic swallowing that makes it all possible. We rarely notice how much coordination and muscle function is actually involved in swallowing properly. It requires the seamless coordination and strength of muscles in the mouth, pharynx (throat), and esophagus.
Normal functioning during swallowing is important because it ensures that the windpipe is closed and that food or drink is kept out of the windpipe. It takes a great deal of muscle coordination in the larynx to make this possible and to ensure that no food or drink remains in the throat after the swallow.
What are the symptoms of a swallowing disorder?
The most common symptoms of a swallowing disorder usually include the following:
- Frequent coughing during eating or drinking
- Choking while eating or drinking
- Voice changes during swallowing
- Food or drinking getting “stuck” in throat
- Weight loss
- Trouble eating at a normal speed
Eventually, a swallowing disorder can lead to pneumonia or chronic lung disease due to poor nutrition and dehydration.
What does swallowing involve?
In order to successfully swallow food or a drink, the following three phases need to occur:
- Oral Phase – food or liquid enters the throat
- Pharyngeal Phase – food or liquid is squeezed down the throat and the airway is closed
- Esophageal Phase – esophagus top and bottom relax and tighten to push food or liquid through to the stomach
What kinds of swallowing problems are there?
Dysphagias, or swallowing issues, are grouped into two broad categories:
These kinds of swallowing disorders occur before the food or drink enters the esophagus and are often the result of a neuromuscular disease. People suffering from this kind of dysphagia will notice difficulty beginning a swallow. They may describe it as food or drink “going down the wrong pipe” and constantly suffer from choking and coughing. As a result, oropharyngeal dysphagia causes dehydration, aspiration, and embarrassment when in social situations.
What causes oropharyngeal dysphagia?
- Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Brain injury
- Alsheimer’s disease
- Cerebral palsy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury
- Muscular dystrophy
This kind of swallowing disorder occurs in the later portion of the swallowing phase when the esophagus is needed. People suffering from these kinds of disorders often complain that food or drink gets “stuck” in their throat and might even throw up as a result. Those suffering from esophageal dysphagia should seek medical advice, as the symptoms could also indicate esophageal cancer.
What causes esophageal dysphagia?
- Mucosal rings
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Esophageal cancer
- Esophageal motility disorders