Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia) - Overview
What are the symptoms?
Dysphagia can come and go, be mild or severe, or get worse over time. If
you have dysphagia, you may:
- Have problems getting food or liquids to go
down on the first try.
- Gag, choke, or cough when you
- Have food or liquids come back up through your throat,
mouth, or nose after you swallow.
- Feel like foods or liquids are
stuck in some part of your throat or chest.
- Have pain when you
- Have pain or pressure in your chest or have
- Lose weight because you are not
getting enough food or liquid.
How is dysphagia diagnosed?
If you are having difficulty swallowing, your
doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will
want to know if you have trouble swallowing solids, liquids, or both. He or she will also want to know where you
think foods or liquids are getting stuck, whether and for how long you have had
heartburn, and how long you have had difficulty swallowing. He or she may also check your
reflexes, muscle strength, and speech. Your doctor may then refer you to one of
the following specialists:
To help find the cause of your dysphagia, you may need one
or more tests, including:
- X-rays. These provide pictures of your
neck or chest.
- A barium swallow. This is an X-ray of the throat and
esophagus. Before the X-ray, you will drink a chalky liquid called barium.
Barium coats the inside of your esophagus so that it shows up better on an
- Fluoroscopy. This test uses a type of barium swallow
that allows your swallowing to be videotaped.
- Laryngoscopy. This
test looks at the back of your throat, using either a mirror or a fiber-optic
- Esophagoscopy or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. During
these tests, a thin, flexible instrument called a scope is placed in your mouth
and down your throat to look at your esophagus and perhaps your stomach and
upper intestines. Sometimes a small piece of tissue is removed for a
biopsy. A biopsy is a test that checks for
inflammation or cancer cells.
- Manometry. During this test, a small tube is placed down your
esophagus. The tube is attached to a computer that measures the pressure in
your esophagus as you swallow.
- pH monitoring, which tests how often
acid from the stomach gets into the esophagus and how long it stays