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Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

Difficulty swallowing is also called dysphagia. It is usually a sign of a problem with your throat or esophagus —the muscular tube that moves food and liquids from the back of your mouth to your stomach. Although dysphagia can happen to anyone, it is most common in older adults, babies, and people who have problems of the brain or nervous system.

There are many different problems that can prevent the throat or esophagus from working properly. Some of these are minor, and others are more serious. If you have a hard time swallowing once or twice, you probably do not have a medical problem. But if you have trouble swallowing on a regular basis, you may have a more serious problem that needs treatment.

Causes of dysphagia

Dysphagia is usually caused by another health condition, such as:

a condition that affects the nervous system, such as a stroke, head injury, multiple sclerosis or dementia

cancer – such as mouth cancer or oesophageal cancer

gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where stomach acid leaks back up into the oesophagus

Children can also have dysphagia as a result of a developmental or learning disability, such as cerebral palsy.

Dysphagia can sometimes lead to further problems.

One of the most common problems is coughing or choking, when food goes down the "wrong way" and blocks your airway. This can lead to chest infections, such as aspiration pneumonia, which require urgent medical treatment.

Aspiration pneumonia can develop after accidentally inhaling something, such as a small piece of food.

Warning signs of aspiration pneumonia include:

a wet, gurgly voice while eating or drinking

coughing while eating or drinking

difficulty breathing – breathing may be rapid and shallow

If you, or someone you care for, have been diagnosed with dysphagia and you develop these symptoms, contact your treatment team immediately, or call NHS 111.

Dysphagia may mean that you avoid eating and drinking due to a fear of choking, which can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.

Dysphagia can also affect your quality of life because it may prevent you from enjoying meals and social occasions.

Dysphagia in children

If children with long-term dysphagia aren't eating enough, they may not get the essential nutrients they need for physical and mental development.

Children who have difficulty eating may also find meal times stressful, which may lead to behavioural problems.

How is it treated?

Your treatment will depend on what is causing your dysphagia. Treatment for dysphagia includes:

Exercises for your swallowing muscles. If you have a problem with your brain, nerves, or muscles, you may need to do exercises to train your muscles to work together to help you swallow. You may also need to learn how to position your body or how to put food in your mouth to be able to swallow better.

Changing the foods you eat. Your doctor may tell you to eat certain foods and liquids to make swallowing easier.

Dilation. In this treatment, a device is placed down your esophagus to carefully expand any narrow areas of your esophagus. You may need to have the treatment more than once.

Endoscopy. In some cases, a long, thin scope can be used to remove an object that is stuck in your esophagus.

Surgery. If you have something blocking your esophagus (such as a tumor or diverticula), you may need surgery to remove it. Surgery is also sometimes used in people who have a problem that affects the lower esophageal muscle (achalasia).

Medicines. If you have dysphagia related to GERD, heartburn, or esophagitis, prescription medicines may help prevent stomach acid from entering your esophagus. Infections in your esophagus are often treated with antibiotic medicines.

(01/11/2021)
by UMHS

More Information: https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tp23477spec#:~:text=Difficulty%20swallowing%20is%20also%20called,your%20mouth%20to%20your%20stomach.

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