Swallowing Disorders

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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 06/2018
  • Update Date: 08/14/2018
Article written by Mahnke D