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What is Dysphagia?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dysphagia is a medical condition that causes a person to have problems swallowing. It may be caused by weak muscles in the mouth and throat. A restricted amount of saliva production, problems with the brain affecting the body's nervous system, or damage in a person's esophagus can also cause this problem.

Those most commonly affected by dysphagia are the elderly, those who have had a stroke, individuals with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease, and people with Alzheimer's disease. People who suffer from nervous system disorders or head, neck, and spinal cord injuries are also more prone to have difficulty swallowing. In addition, individuals who have had internal burns from poisoning or radiotherapy, as well as those who have an infection or other problems in the mouth or throat, are more likely to develop this condition.

There are many different methods for determining whether a person has dysphagia. People with this condition may seem to swallow constantly, cough all the time, clear their throats on a regular basis, have saliva and food fall out of their mouth while eating, or find it easier to eat slowly. Most of the time, however, people do not want to admit they have a problem swallowing, which is why many common symptoms go unnoticed and the disorder is often left untreated.

The symptoms of dysphagia can range from mild to severe. If a person always feels like he or she has food and liquid stuck in the throat, then he or she may have a severe case. Any sort of pain as food travels to the stomach also indicates a serious problem.

Severe dysphagia can be problematic because it can lead to improperly digested food. As a result, the person may not be able to absorb vitamins and minerals as effectively. In the worst case scenario, problems swallowing can lead to a serious case of pneumonia as food or liquids make their way into the lungs rather than the stomach.

Dysphagia is treatable, although not always curable. A medical professional can suggest methods to alleviate the discomfort associated with eating, drinking, and swallowing for those with the condition, and primary treatments include changing the foods the patient eats and teaching him or her how to swallow differently. For the worst cases, surgery may be an option.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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