The irritating and even painful sensation of having something stuck in your throat can happen to anyone. But, if it’s persistent and causes you chronic irritation, coughing, and difficulty in swallowing your own saliva, it could indicate a serious medical condition.
If you’re struggling with these symptoms, you may have dysphagia. Up to 700,000 Americans suffer from this condition each year. Our gastroenterologist, Dr. Bharat Pothuri, at GastroDoxs in Houston, Texas, is available to diagnose and treat uncomfortable and potentially dangerous dysphagia.
Here’s what you need to know about dysphagia..
Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing foods or drinks. A one-off case of getting a piece of food caught in your throat is normal and not a cause for concern. However, if you have difficulty swallowing or moving food and liquid from your mouth to your stomach regularly – for months even – it is likely dysphagia.
Dysphagia can affect anyone of any age, but is particularly common among older adults and people with certain conditions like:
- Nervous system disorders, including stroke, head injury, dementia, or multiple sclerosis
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Cancer, including mouth and esophageal cancer
Dysphagia can be painful and make it almost impossible to swallow at times.
Other symptoms that suggest dysphagia
Of course difficulty swallowing or inability to swallow are major indications of dysphagia. Other symptoms include:
- Pain while swallowing
- Persistent sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest
- Frequent heartburn
- Sensations of regurgitation of food or stomach acid
- Gagging or coughing while swallowing
Dysphagia can cause unintended weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration. Patients can also develop aspiration pneumonia from food or liquid entering the airway as they attempt to swallow. The food or fluid introduces bacteria into the lungs.
Choking is another possible effect of dysphagia. Food may block the airway when a patient attempts to swallow.
What to do about dysphagia
The first step is to get a diagnosis. If you or a loved one has symptoms of the condition, consult with Dr. Pothuri. He’ll do a thorough exam, review the patient’s medical history, and evaluate symptoms.
He can then determine which imaging tests are necessary for full diagnosis. X-rays with a contrast material, dynamic swallowing studies, CT scans, and endoscopy are options.
Treatment for dysphagia depends on the severity and nature of the condition. You may undergo learning exercises to coordinate swallowing muscles or to restimulate the nerves that trigger the swallowing reflex.
Other exercises help you learn how to place your body and position your head to swallow. These exercises often help if the patient has a neurological disease like Alzheimer’s disease.
For people with dysphagia due to a tight esophageal sphincter or stricture in the throat, Dr. Pothuri might use a special strategy to expand and stretch the esophagus. If GERD causes your dysphagia, medications can help control stomach acid and your symptoms.
You may also benefit from following a special diet that helps make swallowing go more smoothly. In severe cases, surgery may be required. This is true if you have narrowing or blockages caused by bony outgrowths or cancer.
Trust that our team at GastroDoxs will help you make swallowing easier so you get the nutrients you need without pain and potential complications. Call today or book an appointment online to have your dysphagia evaluated and treated.