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People sometimes have difficulty swallowing, and this is sometimes related to a throat infection or some other minor problem, which goes away after a day or two.

However, if you have problems in swallowing that lasts for a long time or that happens regularly whenever you eat or drink, you may have a medical problem that needs proper evaluation and treatment.

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a symptom characterized by difficulty in swallowing foods or liquids. The problem involves a sensation where passing food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach is incomplete, giving you a feeling that something is stuck somewhere in the throat, neck or somewhere in the chest. It may be accompanied by pain and other symptoms such as coughing, gagging, choking, drooling, and hoarseness of voice. Some may also experience frequent heartburn, regurgitation (like food is being brought back up to the throat), and loss of weight. In children, dysphagia may can loss of appetite, vomiting, trouble breathing and recurrent respiratory problems.

Causes of Dysphagia

Some of the more common causes of dysphagia include throat infections, poorly fitting dentures or bad teeth, and large pieces of food that cause blockage in the throat or esophagus. Emotional factors may also play a role in some people who have difficulty swallowing their food.

In general, problems in swallowing may be classified into two, depending on the cause. These include dysphagia cause by blockage to the passage of food and dysphagia due to muscular or nerve problems along the throat and esophagus.

Blockage problems may be caused by the formation of ulcers and scars within the esophagus due to chronic acid regurgitation from the stomach, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It may also be due to an inflammation within the esophagus (esophagitis), a tumor, small sacs (diverticuli), lymph nodes, or bone spurs from nearby vertebrae (bones of the spine). These cause a mechanical blockage that makes swallowing difficult.

Muscular and nerve problems related to the esophagus include spasm or strictures in the thick muscles or sphincters of the esophagus, weakness of the muscles (such as scleroderma), inflammation due to immune system disorders like dermatomyositis, stroke, and injury to the spinal cord or brain.

When to See a Doctor

You need to see your doctor when problems in swallowing are accompanied by fever, shortness of breathing, persistent regurgitation or vomiting and weight loss.

You should seek consultation especially if your symptoms do not go away after a few days or if they are getting worse.

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