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Dysphagia is when you have difficulty swallowing. This means that it takes more time and effort to move food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Occasional difficulty swallowing, which may occur when you eat too fast or don't chew your food well enough, usually isn't cause for concern. But persistent dysphagia may indicate a serious medical condition. Treatment options will vary according to your specific medical condition.

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Types and Causes of Dysphagia

Dysphagia generally falls into one of two types. These are: esophageal dysphagia and oropharyngeal dysphagia.

Esophageal Dysphagia

Esophageal dysphagia refers to the sensation of food sticking or getting hung up in the base of your throat or in your chest after you've started to swallow. Some of the causes of esophageal dysphagia include:

  • Achalasia
  • Diffuse Spasm: A condition that produces multiple high-pressure, poorly coordinated contractions of your esophagus, usually after you swallow.
  • Esophageal stricture
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Foreign bodies: sometimes food or another object can partially block your throat or esophagus
  • Esophageal ring: a thin area of narrowing in the lower esophagus can intermittently cause difficulty swallowing solid foods
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Esophagitis

Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

Certain conditions can weaken your throat muscles, making it difficult to move food from your mouth into your throat and esophagus when you start to swallow. Some of the causes of oropharyngeal dysphagia include:

  • Certain neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.
  • Stroke
  • Brain or spinal cord injury
  • Certain types of cancers
  • Radiation therapy

Symptoms of Dysphagia

Some of the most common symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • Being unable to swallow or painful swallowing
  • Coughing or gagging of food when swallowing
  • Regurgitation (bringing food back up to the mouth)
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Having the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest or behind your breastbone (sternum)

Diagnosis of Dysphagia

Your doctor will most likely perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and ask about your risk factors, among others items. After that, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests. Some of the diagnostic tests and procedures include:

Treatment of Dysphagia

Some treatment options for both types of dysphagia include lifestyle changes, medications, and medical and surgical procedures.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Change your eating habits (smaller meals, smaller bites, ways of placing food in your mouth, for example.).
  • Avoid alcohol consumption, tobacco and caffeine.
  • Try foods of different textures.
  • Depending on circumstances, you may need to follow a special liquid diet.


  • Antacids will help relieve heartburn or indigestion caused by excess stomach acid.
  • Corticosteroids will help reduce dysphagia symptoms.
  • Relaxants will help the smooth muscles of the esophagus relax.

Medical and Surgical Procedures

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