Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing, or the feeling that food is "sticking" in your throat or chest. The feeling is actually in your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. You may experience dysphagia when swallowing solid foods, liquids, or both. Oropharyngeal dysphagia involves difficulty moving food from your mouth into your upper esophagus. Esophageal dysphagia involves difficulty moving food through your esophagus to your stomach. Dysphagia can affect you at any age, although the likelihood increases as you grow older.
Signs and SymptomsThe following are symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia.
- Difficulty trying to swallow
- Choking or breathing saliva into your lungs while swallowing
- Coughing while swallowing
- Regurgitating liquid through your nose
- Breathing in food while swallowing
- Weak voice
- Weight loss
- Pressure sensation in your mid-chest area
- Sensation of food stuck in your throat
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
- Pain with swallowing
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
What Causes It?Dysphagia in children is often due to malformations, conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Dysphagia in adults is often due to tumors (benign or cancerous), conditions that cause the esophagus to narrow, neuromuscular conditions, or GERD. Other causes include smoking, excessive alcohol use, certain medications, and teeth or dentures in poor condition.
What to Expect at Your Provider's OfficeYour health care provider may ask about your symptoms and eating habits. For infants and children, the health care provider may want to observe them eating. Your provider may also listen to your heart, take your pulse, and will want to know your medical history.
A variety of tests can be used for dysphagia.
- In endoscopy or esophagoscopy, a tube is inserted into your esophagus to help your provider evaluate the condition of your esophagus, and to try to open any parts that might be closed off.
- In esophageal manometry, a tube is inserted into your stomach to measure pressure differences in various regions.
- In endoscopic ultrasonography, ultrasound is used to evaluate the condition of your esophagus.
- X rays of your neck, chest, or abdomen may be taken.
- In a barium swallow, moving picture or video X rays are taken of your esophagus as you swallow barium, which is visible on an X ray.
Treatment OptionsDysphagia generally is treated with drugs, procedures that open up the esophagus, or surgery. Your treatment will depend on the cause, the seriousness, and any complications you may be experiencing. In most cases, you can be treated without hospitalization as long as you are able to eat enough and have a low risk of complications. If your esophagus is severely obstructed, however, you may be hospitalized. Infants and children with dysphagia are often hospitalized.
Drug TherapiesCheck manufacturers' profiles for possible drug interactions. Liquid forms of medications may be necessary.
- Nitrates: nitroglycerin, isosorbide
- Anticholinergics: dicyclomine or hyoscyamine sulfate (do not take in cases of urinary disease, glaucoma, myasthenia gravis)
- Calcium-channel blockers: nifedipine, diltiazem
- Sedatives/antidepressants: diazepam, trazodone, doxepin
- Smooth-muscle relaxants: hydralazine
- Antacids, ulcers, and reflux treatments: cimetidine, ranitidine, nizatidine, famotidine, omeprazole, lansoprazole, metoclopramide
Complementary and Alternative TherapiesHerbs can be effective at decreasing spasms and healing an inflamed esophagus. Homeopathic remedies may be used at the same time.
Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts).
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): reduces spasms and swelling and is a pain reliever specifically for the gastrointestinal tract. Do not take licorice for a long period of time or if you have high blood pressure. The dose is 380 to 1,140 mg per day. Chewable lozenges may be the best form of licorice for treating GERD.
- Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva): demulcent (protects irritated tissues and promotes their healing); dose is 60 to 320 mg per day. One tsp. powder may be mixed with water and drunk three to four times a day.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): improves digestion and helps you relax, especially if you feel anxious or depressed
- Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa): reduces spasms and swelling, especially where there is fatigue
- St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum): relieves pain, depression
- Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): antispasmodic, sedative, relaxant
- Linden flowers (Tilia cordata): antispasmodic, mild diuretic
Some of the most common remedies used for dysphagia are listed below. Usually, the dose is 12X to 30C every one to four hours until your symptoms get better.
- Baptesia tincotria if you can swallow only liquids; especially with a red inflamed throat that is relatively pain-free
- Baryta carbonica if you have huge tonsils
- Carbo vegatabilis for bloating and indigestion that is worse when lying down; especially with flatulence and fatigue
- Ignatia for "lump in the throat," back spasms, cough; especially when symptoms appear after you have experienced grief
- Lachesis if you cannot stand to be touched around the throat (including by clothing that is tight at the neck)
Following UpDysphagia should not limit your activities, but your health care provider may restrict your diet.
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