People usually take swallowing for granted, until it becomes difficult and even painful. This could indicate a condition known as dysphagia. When you have dysphagia, you can’t swallow liquids, foods, or even your own saliva safely. Sometimes people lose the ability to swallow altogether due to complex problems with neural control
At GastroDoxs, gastroenterologist Bharat Pothuri, MD, treats patients in the greater Houston area who have dysphagia. He can help you if you suspect you or a loved one has dysphagia.
Isn’t swallowing an automatic process?
Swallowing seems automatic, but it actually involves about 50 pairs of muscles and multiple nerves. You have to take a bite, chew and prepare the food for swallowing, and then move it to the stomach. Your tongue and jaw, esophagus, and larynx must work to make food or liquid travel successfully from your mouth to your stomach. If there’s a problem anywhere along the way with any of the structures involved in the process, dysphagia can occur.
What causes dysphagia?
Weakened tongue or cheek muscles can compromise your ability to move around the mouth for chewing. People who’ve suffered a stroke or who have a nervous system disorder may find it hard to even start the swallowing response in the throat. Those with weak throat muscles may have trouble moving food toward the stomach. Disorders of the esophagus can also cause dysphagia.
Disorders that are commonly associated with dysphagia include head injuries, dementia, stroke, cancer of the mouth or esophagus, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What other symptoms accompany dysphagia?
Dysphagia may appear as coughing or choking when a person eats or drinks. Some people with the condition bring food back up, sometimes through the nose. You may have a persistent feeling that food is stuck in your chest or your throat. You may notice regular drooling, too.
How does dysphagia affect my life?
Obviously, having trouble swallowing makes it difficult to enjoy meals and even eat out at restaurants or social functions. You may experience choking spells or uncontrolled coughing when food goes down wrong and blocks your airway.
Difficulty at meals can lead to malnutrition and dehydration because it’s difficult to get the food and liquids you need. You’re also at a greater risk of developing chest infections, such as aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia develops when you accidentally inhale something foreign, such as a small piece of food. As a result, your lungs become irritated or even suffer damage.
How do I know for sure it’s dysphagia?
After assessing symptoms and doing a comprehensive health history, Dr. Pothuri and our team here at GastroDoxs run several tests to determine the exact cause of your problem. These may include water swallow tests and a videofluoroscopic swallow study as well as esophageal endoscopy and esophageal manometry to evaluate the function of your esophagus.
If dysphagia has persisted for a time, a nutritional evaluation and support may be required to prevent nutrient deficiencies or excessive weight loss.
Can dysphagia be treated?
Dysphagia can often be treated noninvasively with specific exercises to retrain your swallowing muscles and nerves so that they coordinate again. Medications to reduce stomach acid and relax your esophagus in cases of GERD is another noninvasive treatment.
You may benefit from a procedure called dilation that widens a narrowed esophagus. A balloon inserted into the area is gently expanded with an endoscope. Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove tumors blocking your swallowing abilities. If these treatments aren’t possible, a person with dysphagia may need a feeding tube inserted to provide adequate nutrition.
If you have a swallowing disorder, it’s important to seek treatment. We can determine the underlying cause and find solutions for any complications associated with dysphagia. Call the office that serves the greater Houston area or use this website to set up a consultation.