Swallowing problems are problems with swallowing food or liquids. They can occur in the mouth or where the food tube (esophagus) meets the stomach, or anywhere in-between. The medical term for swallowing problems is dysphagia.
Swallowing moves food or drink from the mouth into the stomach. It is a complex process. Breathing follows some of the same path that food and liquids follow when you eat or drink. Normal swallowing needs to direct food and drink into the food tube and away from the windpipe. Food or drink are moved by the tongue to the back of the mouth and into the throat. There is a flap that protects the voice box and windpipe from the food or drink as it moves into the food tube. The food tube pushes the food into the stomach.
Many different things can cause problems with swallowing. For example, it may be caused by:
Possible symptoms are:
Sometimes the only symptom of a swallowing problem may be that you are losing weight because you are eating less food and getting less nourishment.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and give you an exam. Your provider may recommend including an ear, nose and throat doctor or a gastroenterologist in your evaluation.
Tests may include:
The treatment of a swallowing problem depends on its cause. Sometimes only medicine is needed. For example, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic if you have an infection, or medicine to reduce acid levels if your acid levels are too high.
A special therapist may work with you to teach you what types of food to eat and to help you strengthen your swallowing muscles.
Surgery may be needed if cancer is causing the problem or if a defect needs to be repaired or bypassed. In cases where the swallowing problem cannot be fixed, a special feeding tube may placed into the stomach.