Swallowing is a complex process. Swallowing, termed deglutition, allows you to pass food and liquids from your mouth to your stomach for digestion. Swallowing difficulties, termed dysphagia, can occur for several reasons. Certain medical conditions, neurological conditions, or structural deformities can cause dysphagia.
Treatment for dysphagia varies from individual to individual. It depends on the cause and severity of the swallowing disorder. Treatments may include treating the underlying medical condition, rehabilitation, and changes in food preparation.
Am I at Risk
Risk factors may increase your likelihood of experiencing swallowing difficulties. People with all of the risk factors may never develop swallowing problems; however, the chance of developing the condition increases with the more risk factors you have. You should tell your doctor about your risk factors and discuss your concerns.
Risk factors for swallowing difficulties:
_____ Neurological conditions that affect the mouth or throat can cause swallowing difficulties. These conditions include traumatic brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Myasthenia Gravis, Muscular Dystrophy, Polymyositis, and infections, such as Polio or Syphilis.
_____ Medical conditions can cause obstruction. Such medical conditions include tumors, cervical spine disease, Zenker’s diverticulum, esophageal webs, and emotional or anxiety disorders.
_____ Esophageal obstructions can disrupt or block the flow of food and liquids to the stomach. This can result from narrowing of the esophagus. Conditions that can cause the esophagus to narrow include tumors, foreign material, Schatzki’s Ring, or strictures
_____ Smoking and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are risk factors for the development of esophageal cancer.
_____ Esophageal neurological or muscular conditions can affect the flow of food and liquids to the stomach. Examples of such conditions include Achalasia, GERD, Hiatal Hernia, Diffuse Esophageal Spasm, Symptomatic Esophageal Peristalsis (Nutcracker Esophagus), and Scleroderma.
_____ If you have a cleft palate, you may experience difficulty swallowing.
Poor swallowing can cause choking if food or liquid “goes down the wrong windpipe.” If food becomes lodged, the Heimlich maneuver may need to be performed. If efforts do not remove the food from the airway, someone should call the emergency medical services in your area, usually 911. The emergency medical personnel may need to establish an alternative airway to allow the person to breathe. Choking can be serious and life threatening. If untreated, it can cause blockage of the airway and even death.
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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.
The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.