Dysphagia is the medical term used to describe difficulty swallowing. Individuals with dysphagia may have trouble keeping foods down, choke or cough when they swallow, feel as though foods are stuck in the throat, have pain upon swallowing, or even have heartburn.
Commonly, a patient may experience what feels like dysphagia if they have a sore throat due to a cold or flu virus, and in cases such as these it is not considered serious and will get better after a few days. To relieve sore throats and dysphagia caused by the common cold, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends drinking warm fluids such as tea, gargling with salt-water, as well as sucking on lozenges.
However, there are many different medical conditions that can cause dysphagia, some of which can be severe if left untreated, and may be indicative of a problem with your esophagus – the muscular tube that is responsible for moving foods and liquids from your mouth all the way to your stomach.
One of the most common causes of dysphagia, and the least severe, is dry mouth. This can be caused by something as simple as dehydration, from medications, or another health problem. Your GP or dentist will be able to make suggestions and may even be able to prescribe medication to stimulate the production of saliva.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known as GERD or acid reflux, is a very common condition that can cause dysphagia. GERD occurs when the acid of the stomach backs up into the esophagus. If left untreated, this can cause ulcers and scarring in the esophagus. As a result of untreated GERD, you can also develop an inflammatory condition of the esophagus known as esophagitis. Esophagitis cannot only be caused by untreated GERD, but can also be caused by infections, getting food or pills stuck in the esophagus, and even allergies.
Dysphagia is also a common symptom for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. As MS is a progressive disease, this symptom typically does not appear until it is in an advanced stage. However, it can happen at any time. In order to treat MS-related dysphagia, the patient will need to develop safer eating habits and make dietary changes. In cases where the dysphagia is severe, feeding tubes may be required in order to avoid malnutrition.
In order to determine the cause of dysphagia, Dr. Ali Ghahary may order a series of medical imaging tests for patients, including X-rays, a barium swallow. A procedure known as an endoscopy or gastroscopy may also be necessary to get a better look at your esophagus, stomach and intestines. During this procedure, a biopsy may also be taken to test for inflammation or any other disease, such as cancer.
Treatment for dysphagia depends on the symptoms, though some things that may be helpful include exercises to train the muscles in your throat to work better, making dietary changes, or by taking medication.