Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty with swallowing. It is a common problem that brings patients to see physicians and speech pathologists and can include difficulties with eating solid food, liquids, or both.
It can also include the sensation or perception of food or liquids being stuck or incompletely passing into the stomach. It is important because significant dysphagia can cause inadequate nutritional intake or be associated with aspiration of food or liquids into the windpipe or lungs.
Dysphagia can result from many things including:
- Neurologic conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, or other conditions
- Cancer or tumors of the head and neck, lung, esophagus, brain, or spine and subsequent treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery)
- Congenital problems, or problems that have been present since birth such as cerebral palsy
Infections involving the mouth or throat
- Esophageal abnormalities including esophageal narrowing, esophageal spasm, uncoordinated motility of the esophagus, or hiatal hernia.
- Gastro-esophageal or Laryngopharyngeal reflux (acid reflux involving the voice box or throat)
There are several diagnostic tests that physicians use to diagnose and manage swallowing problems including barium swallows to evaluate the oral cavity, throat and esophagus, scope exams to look at the throat, voice box, esophagus, and stomach, as well as more specialized studies to assess for acid reflux and esophageal motility disorders.
As indicated above, dysphagia management and rehabilitation may require multi-disciplinary care including Otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), Speech-Language Pathology, Gastroenterology, and Neurology. Cleveland Clinic is well equipped to diagnose and manage these conditions.
Swallowing problems that persist for longer than 1-2 weeks should prompt a visit to a physician.