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Swallowing is a surprisingly complicated process with a combination of voluntary and involuntary reflexes, nerves and muscles all working together. It is something that we take for granted as long as it is functioning fine and we do not have to think about it.

However, it can be extremely debilitating and gnawing if this seemingly simply body function does not work the way it is supposed to.

There are many things that can go wrong during the whole process. Any trouble with swallowing food is called as dysphagia. The causes which lead to this condition are:

1. Spasm Of The Involuntary Muscles

A diffuse spasm of the involuntary muscles involved in swallowing can go into spasm during the process. This makes it uncomfortable and difficult for the food to go down the esophagus. It is a rare disorder and has been associated with an imbalance between nerve conduction and muscle function. This symptom could be a sign of other deeper, more sinister conditions.

2. Achalasia

A defect with the esophageal sphincter can cause the food to rise back up the esophagus if it opens improperly or let the contents of the stomach rise up if the sphincter does not close completely. Along with sphincters, the muscles in the wall also tend to weaken over a period of time which further aggravates the problem.

3. Tumor

A cancerous growth in the region of the throat can cause an obstruction to the swallowing process. The size of the tumor is likely to grow in size as time progresses and thus make the situation worse.

If any swelling or growth is felt then it should be shown to the doctor for examination without delay.


This stands for Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. It also involves a backing up of stomach contents into the esophagus. There is an overproduction of acid in the stomach alongside weak esophageal muscles. A feeling of heartburn after a heavy meal is a common complaint from patients with this condition. This stomach acid causes ulcers inside the esophagus making the process of swallowing very uncomfortable and painful.

5. Muscular Dystrophy

A difficulty in swallowing might be the first symptom that shows up in case of certain autoimmune disorders which cause muscular dystrophy. There is a self-inflicted damage to the body by the cells of the immune system and it results in widespread destruction and wasting of the muscles. The rate of progression of this disease can be surprisingly quick and the treatment if often difficult and long term.

6. Extra Esophageal Mass

Another common cause of difficulty in swallowing could be the development of an extra esophageal mass which puts pressure on the muscles of the esophagus preventing them from working without obstruction. A thorough clinical examination supported with X-rays and other imaging techniques should be sufficient to show such a mass if it exists.

If it does, then its anatomic location, importance and accessibility has to be determined before deciding on a likely treatment direction.

A surgical removal of the entire mass or the obstructing part at the very minimum would be the treatment of choice in most cases.

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