Dysphagia: When Trouble Swallowing Needs Professional Help

Continuing our series on gastrointestinal health written in partnership with the Heartburn and Reflux Center at Florida Hospital Altamonte, today’s article is about a common symptom that can be part of a bigger problem.

Almost everyone has had occasional trouble swallowing, whether from a sore throat, eating too fast, trying to swallow to large a bite, and other common things. It happens every once in a while and is almost never a cause for concern. But when it’s persistent or even constant, that may mean a serious medical problem that requires the right treatment: dysphagia.

Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing, which in turn means more time and more effort by your body to move food and drinks (and medicines and pills) from the mouth to the stomach. It can cause pain and, in some extreme cases, a complete inability to swallow at all.

In addition to trouble swallowing, symptoms of dysphagia can include:

  • Pain while swallowing, also known as odynophagia
  • Feeling like food gets stuck in the throat, chest, or behind the sternum (breastbone)
  • Regurgitation
  • Frequent heartburn or acid reflux
  • Drooling
  • Sore or hoarse throat

This illness tends to be more common in older adults but it can happen to anyone at any age. Different things cause dysphagia, and the cause must be determined in order for the right treatment to be given.

Esophageal dysphagia means the feeling of food getting caught in the throat or feeling like it is caught in the chest. This kind of dysphagia can be caused by several different things, but GERD can be one of them. GERD causes this problem due to the damages caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. The acid causes scarring, spasming, or even narrowing of the esophagus, resulting in dysphagia.

Getting treatment for dysphagia is important, as difficulty swallowing can create some serious health issues, including malnutrition (from not being able to get enough food or drink down) and breathing problems that can mean increased risk for upper respiratory infections and even pneumonia. Your medical specialist at the center will help determine the right treatment for you based on your individual needs.