You probably swallow without thinking much about it, but the action is actually quite complex, requiring the cooperation of about 30 nerves and muscles. When the process of swallowing doesn’t happen as it should, you have dysphagia.
Dysphagia can show up as pain while swallowing. You may also choke on foods or liquids and be unable to take in sufficient calories and fluids.
Dysphagia can develop at any age, but most often affects the elderly, stroke victims, or people with Parkinson’s disease. Certain health conditions that affect the nervous system are also associated with dysphagia.
Here at GastroDoxs, Dr. Bharat Pothuri helps patients with dysphagia. Here are some of the treatments he uses to treat patients with this condition.
When to seek help for dysphagia
Be concerned about your swallowing or a loved one’s swallowing if any of the following symptoms occur:
- Pain during swallowing or inability to swallow
- The feeling that food is stuck in the throat or chest
- Drooling or hoarseness
- Persistent heartburn or the back-up of stomach acid
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing
It’s important for you to get immediate help if dysphagia is causing weight loss, regurgitation, vomiting, or choking.
Treatments for dysphagia
How we treat dysphagia depends on the cause of the swallowing disorder.
For patients with oropharyngeal dysphagia, exercises to improve throat muscle strength can help. This type of dysphagia occurs when certain conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, have weakened the throat muscles. You have trouble moving food through your mouth and into your throat and esophagus.
Other exercises may focus on strengthening weak facial muscles or in improving coordination.
Simple changes to your head or neck posture or in your food’s texture or size can help improve swallowing, too.
Patients with esophageal dysphagia have the sensation of food getting stuck or caught in the back of the throat or chest. Treatment for this form of dysphagia may include gentle dilation of the esophagus using a balloon attached to an endoscope. Surgery for an esophageal tumor or diverticulum (small, bulging pouch) can also clear the esophageal path.
Patients with severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux that interferes with swallowing often respond well to medications that reduce stomach acid production.
Dr. Pothuri may also recommend dietary changes to help when a patient has eosinophilic esophagitis, an allergic condition where the esophagus can’t contract properly because of inflammation.
Other dietary changes may include adding a thickener to thin liquids to make them easier to swallow. Patients sometimes find that avoiding extremely hot or cold drinks helps improve swallowing.
If therapies, exercises, food changes, or other interventions just don’t work, we may recommend a feeding tube, which bypasses the swallowing mechanism altogether. You’ll still get the nutrients you need without having to worry about swallowing the food and liquid.
You or a loved one can get help for dysphagia at GastroDoxs. If you’re in the Greater Houston area, contact us to set up an evaluation and start therapy. Call today or book an appointment online.