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What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia (pronounced dis-FA-je-uh) is difficulty in moving food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Dysphagia may be associated with pain while swallowing. Some people with dysphagia are unable to swallow.

Dysphagia can occur at any age. However, it is most common in older adults.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

The most common symptoms of dysphagia are:

  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Choking or coughing while eating
  • Sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest, or behind your breastbone
  • Pressure or pain in your chest
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Gurgling sound in your throat
  • Unexpected weight loss

In infants and children, common symptoms of dysphagia are:

  • Lack of attention during feeding or meals
  • Tensing of the body during feeding
  • Refusing to eat foods of different textures
  • Lengthy feeding or eating times (30 minutes or longer)
  • Food or liquid leaking from the mouth
  • Coughing or gagging during feeding or meals
  • Spitting up or vomiting during feeding or meals
  • Inability to coordinate breathing with eating and drinking
  • Poor weight gain or growth

What Causes Dysphagia?

Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with any part of the swallowing process.

Any condition that weakens or damages the muscles and nerves used for swallowing may cause dysphagia. Stroke or head injury may affect the coordination of the swallowing muscles or limit sensation in the mouth and throat. An infection or irritation can cause narrowing of the esophagus. People born with abnormalities of the swallowing mechanism may not be able to swallow normally. Infants who are born with cleft palate can also cause dysphagia. Injuries or trauma to the head, neck, and chest may also cause dysphagia.

Complications of Dysphagia

Some common complications of dysphagia are: malnutrition and dehydration. If food or liquid enters your airway (aspiration) as you attempt to swallow, respiratory problems or infections can occur, such as frequent bouts of pneumonia or upper respiratory infections.

Can Dysphagia be Treated?

Yes. Treatment options will depend on the cause of dysphagia. There are different treatments for various types of dysphagia. Some common treatments are surgery, speech-language therapy, and medication.


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