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Esophageal Dysphagia

(Dysphagia, Esophageal; Difficulty Swallowing [Esophagus])

by Swedish Staff and Contributors

Symptoms of Dysphagia
Dysphagia Defined
What Causes Dysphagia
Risk Factors

Symptoms of Dysphagia

Symptoms of dysphagia can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing solids, liquids, or both
  • Pain when swallowing
  • A sensation of food being stuck in your esophagus (the tube that transports food from your throat to your stomach)
  • Choking or coughing when eating or drinking
  • Heartburn, regurgitation
  • Drooling
  • Wheezing, hoarse voice
  • Weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition (due to problems with eating and drinking)
  • Pneumonia

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Dysphagia Defined

People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing. There are two main types of dysphagia:

  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia — swallowing problems occur in your mouth and pharynx (the part of the throat behind your mouth)
  • Esophageal dysphagia—swallowing problems occur in your esophagus

The remainder of this article focuses on esophageal dysphagia.

Esophagus and Stomach

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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What Causes Esophageal Dysphagia

Esophageal dysphagia can be caused by a number of medical conditions, such as:

  • Achalasia — a relatively rare disorder that affects the muscles at the bottom of your esophagus
  • Scleroderma — a rare disease of the connective tissue that can cause tissue in your skin, joints and internal organs to thicken and stiffen, leading to problems with the esophageal muscles
  • Esophageal stricture or esophageal ring—causes your esophagus to become more narrow making it harder to swallow
  • Esophageal tumors—if a tumor is malignant, it is cancer

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A physical exam is needed to diagnose esophageal dysphasia. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and any symptoms you may be experiencing, such as:

  • Where do you feel pain when you swallow?
  • What foods or liquids lead to symptoms?
  • Do the symptoms happen every time you eat or drink?
  • Do you experience heartburn?
  • Is your swallowing problem getting worse?

Tests to determine if you have esophageal dysphasia may include:

  • Swallow test (to observe what happens when you swallow)
  • Videofluorographic swallowing study (VFSS)—an imaging test that involves swallowing food mixed with a barium solution (This allows the doctor to watch the swallowing process on a monitor)
  • Barium swallow —an imaging test that involves swallowing a barium solution and having X-rays taken of your esophagus
  • Endoscopy —a thin, lighted tube is inserted down your throat to examine your esophagus
  • Esophageal manometry—a test to measure how well your esophageal muscles are functioning

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Treatment for dysphagia may include:

  • Procedures, such as:
    • Esophageal dilation —placing a tube-shaped device into your esophagus to widen the narrow part
    • Botox injection into your esophageal muscles to make swallowing easier
  • Surgery (i.e., to remove an esophageal tumor)
  • Dietary changes—avoiding the intake of foods that cause problems, like meat, or eating only pureed food

In severe cases, a feeding tube may be necessary to provide nutrition.)

  • Therapy to improve swallowing—such as learning ways to prevent choking while eating.
  • Medicine (i.e., to treat Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or to relax your esophagus)

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Risk Factors  

Your risk of esophageal dysphagia depends on many conditions and factors, such as:

  • Being of an advanced age
  • Having GERD
  • Being diagnosed with cancer
  • Having had radiation therapy
  • Having had a cardiovascular or respiratory disorder (i.e., stroke)
  • Surgery (i.e., fundoplication)
  • Being born prematurely
  • Taking certain medicines that may affect how your esophagus works (i.e., tetracycline, anticholinergics, corticosteroids)

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Getting early treatment for any related condition, such as GERD, can reduce your risk of esophageal dysphasia.

This content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Swedish.