Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia) - Overview
What is difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)?
swallowing is also called dysphagia. It is usually a sign of a problem with
your throat or
esophagus —the muscular tube that moves food and
liquids from the back of your mouth to your stomach. Although dysphagia can
happen to anyone, it is most common in older adults, babies, and
people who have problems of the brain or nervous system.
many different problems that can prevent the throat or esophagus from working
properly. Some of these are minor, and others are more serious. If you have a
hard time swallowing once or twice, you probably do not have a medical problem.
But if you have trouble swallowing on a regular basis, you may have a more
serious problem that needs treatment.
What causes dysphagia?
Normally, the muscles in your throat and
esophagus squeeze, or contract, to move food and liquids from your mouth to
your stomach without problems. Sometimes, though, food and liquids have trouble
getting to your stomach. There are two types of problems that can make it hard
for food and liquids to travel down your esophagus:
- The muscles and nerves that help move food through the throat and
esophagus are not working right. This can happen if you have:
- Had a
stroke or a brain or spinal cord
- Certain problems with your nervous system, such as
muscular dystrophy, or
immune system problem that causes swelling (or
inflammation) and weakness, such as polymyositis or
- Esophageal spasm. This
means that the muscles of the esophagus suddenly squeeze. Sometimes this can
prevent food from reaching the stomach.
- Scleroderma. In
this condition, tissues of the esophagus become hard and narrow. Scleroderma
can also make the lower esophageal muscle weak, which may cause food and
stomach acid to come back up into your throat and mouth.
- Something is blocking your throat or esophagus. This may happen
if you have:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When stomach acid backs up regularly into your
esophagus, it can cause
ulcers in the esophagus, which can then cause scars to
form. These scars can make your esophagus narrower.
- Esophagitis. This is
inflammation of the esophagus. This can be caused by different problems, such
as GERD or having an infection or getting a pill stuck in the esophagus. It can
also be caused by an
allergic reaction to food or things in the
- Diverticula. These are small
sacs in the walls of the esophagus or the throat.
- Esophageal tumors.
These growths in the esophagus may be
cancerous or not cancerous.
- Masses outside the esophagus, such as
lymph nodes, tumors, or bone spurs on the
vertebrae that press on your esophagus.
A dry mouth can make dysphagia worse. This is because you may not have enough saliva to help move food out of your mouth and through your esophagus. A dry mouth can be caused by medicines or another health problem.