Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Esophageal Dysphagia

(Difficulty Swallowing [Esophagus])

Definition

Dysphagia is a problem that happens when you swallow. It’s hard to get food down the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach. The tube is called the esophagus.

Esophagus and Stomach
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Causes ^

Esophageal dysphagia may be caused by:

Risk Factors ^

Your chances of esophageal dysphagia are higher for:

Symptoms ^

Common symptoms:

  • Having a hard time when you swallow
  • A feeling of food being stuck
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Regurgitation
  • Drooling, coughing, choking
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Problems getting enough fluids or nutrition

Diagnosis ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history.

You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • A test to look for problems while you swallow
  • An upper GI endoscopy—a scope is used to look at the structures from the back of the throat to the stomach
  • A barium swallow
  • Tests on the muscles of the esophagus

Treatment ^

Treatment depends on the cause. You may need:

  • Esophageal dilation—making the esophagus wider where it narrows
  • Surgery—to treat GERD or take out something that is blocking the path
  • Dietary changes such as:
    • Not eating foods that cause problems
    • Eating softer or pureed foods
    • Using a feeding tube if needed
  • Therapy—this will teach to swallow without choking
  • Medicines—to treat any causes, relax muscles, or reduce acid

Prevention ^

The best way to prevent esophageal dysphagia is to treat what’s causing it.

RESOURCES:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
https://www.asha.org

Dysphagia Research Society
https://dysphagiaresearch.site-ym.com

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
https://www.heartandstroke.ca

Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist
https://www.osla.on.ca

REFERENCES:

Dysphagia. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/d/dyphagia.html. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Dysphagia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906517/Dysphagia. Updated March 21, 2017. August 14, 2018.

Dysphagia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/esophageal-and-swallowing-disorders/dysphagia. Updated April 2018. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Swallowing disorders in adults. American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/swallowing/Swallowing-Disorders-in-Adults. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD  Last Updated: 8/14/2018