Dysphagia is a condition where the patient has difficulty to swallow either water, food or both. Swallowing is a complex activity involving the coordinated functioning of multiple involuntary muscles. This coordinated action is called peristalsis. When the co-ordination gets thrown off, it causes dysphagia.

Signs and symptoms

Dysphagia may present as difficulty swallowing, frequent choking on food or water, pain while swallowing and frequent pneumonia due to food entering the wind-pipe. If left unnoticed, the problem could advance and cause the patient to choke on their food.

Causes and risk factors

Most common causes are cricopharyngeal web, corrosive or a peptic stricture and malignancy Dysphagia may also due to a neurological cause. It is typically present in geriatric adults. Patients with a history of other neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease are at a higher risk for dysphagia.


Dysphagia, if left untreated, could result in serious malnutrition and dehydration.


The diagnosis will begin with patient history and physical exam. A speech-language pathologist could be consulted to identify which muscle group is failing. A swallow study, a barium swallow test, an endoscopy and manometry test may be required to identify the extent and cause of the dysphagia.

Treatment and Surgical Interventions

Because of its neurological cause, treatment of dysphagia can be tricky. For low dysphagia, the esophagus may be widened using a balloon pump or a Botox injection to relax the muscles. For high dysphagia, the patient may have to be put on a temporary feeding tube, while also undergoing speech therapy to help them learn new ways to swallow correctly. If the dysphagia is caused by cancer, the patient will be referred to an oncologist for further treatment of the cancer.


Although dysphagia can’t be prevented, the risk can be reduced by eating slowly and chewing your food well. Early detection and effective treatment of GastrEsophageal Reflux (GERD) can reduce the risk of dysphagia.


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