Dysphagia is a medical condition. It refers to the difficulty in swallowing. It is a problem in the muscular tube of the esophagus or throat that moves the food from the mouth to the stomach. People suffering from this condition may find it difficult to swallow food or it may take more effort for them to swallow food. Dysphagia is a condition which may affect people of any age group; however, it is more common in infants, older people and people who suffer from various brain and nervous system disorders.
People who occasionally find it difficult to swallow food or liquid may not be suffering from dysphagia. Dysphagia is a serious condition when the person is unable to swallow food on a regular basis and therefore, requires treatment to solve the problem.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Some people may be suffering with dysphagia but may be unaware of the medical condition which may lead to complications in the future. Therefore, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of dysphagia.
The following are the signs and symptoms of dysphagia.
- Coughing while swallowing food
- Chocking while eating
- Frequent heartburns
- Acid reflux
- Unexplained loss of weight
- Unable to control saliva in the mouth
- Difficulty in performing gulping action
- Recurrent pneumonia
Swallowing is a complex process and various conditions may interfere in the process. Many a times it is difficult to identify the causes for dysphagia. However, below mentioned are the various causes of dysphagia.
- Achalasia is a condition in which the esophageal muscle does not relax and does not allow the food to enter the stomach. This may be one of the causes of dysphagia.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach acid gets accumulated in the esophagus, thus damaging and narrowing the esophagus.
- Scleroderma is a condition in which the tissues become stiff and hard and weaken the esophageal spinchter and allows the acid to get accumulated in the esophagus, causing heartburns.
The other causes are neurological damage, tumor in the esophagus, neurological disorders etc.
RISK FACTORS AND COMPLICATIONS
The following are the risk factors of dysphagia.
- Older people are at a greater risk of developing swallowing difficulties as there is a normal wear and tear in their esophagus. They are also at a risk of developing various other diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke etc. Therefore, older people are a greater risk of the disorder.
- People suffering with certain health conditions such as neurological disorders are at a risk of having swallowing difficulties.
People who have a difficulty in swallowing may develop the following complications.
- Due to difficulty in swallowing, people may lose their appetite and therefore may reduce weight. Dysphagia can make it difficult for people to swallow and they may lose out on the required nourishment for the body.
- There is a risk of the food entering the respiratory pathway and therefore people may also develop respiratory problems.
The following are the tests performed to diagnose dysphagia in people suffering with the condition.
- Physical examination is performed by the doctor to check for any changes in the neck. The doctor feels the patient’s jaws, neck and throat for the presence of lumps.
- Endoscopy uses a flexible, thin, long tube with a camera at one end called the endoscope to check for changes inside the body. The tube is inserted through the mouth.
- Barium swallow- Barium swallow is a solution which contains chemical called barium. The patient is asked to drink the solution, this helps in getting a clear view of the esophagus on an x-ray sheet.
- Manometry- Manometry helps in measuring the pressure waves in the gullet, the end of the esophagus. A small and thin plastic tube is inserted into the gullet through the mouth or nose and the pressure waves in the gullet are measured. In case of detection of high pressure waves in the gullet, it indicates the stiffness of muscles that results in achalasia.
- Imaging tests- Imaging tests include CT scan, MRI, PET scan and X-ray.
The doctor may decide the type of treatment based on the cause of the condition. The various treatments for dysphagia include:
- Physiotherapy exercise which will help in improving the muscles to swallow food and liquids.
- Change in the diet. The doctor may recommend a change in the diet and may include foods that are easy for the person to swallow.
- Dilatation is a process of stretching the muscles. This method is performed under general anesthesia. Balloon dilatation improves the process of swallowing.
- Endoscopy is performed to remove any kind of objects that are stuck in the esophagus.
- In severe cases, the doctor may recommend a surgery to treat the condition. Based on the severity of the condition, the doctor may go for a laparoscopic method or an open surgery.
- Medicines are prescribed by the doctor to prevent heart burns or stomach acids to enter the esophagus. Infections in the esophagus are treated with the help of antibiotics.
- In rare cases, the doctor inserts a feeding tube for the person to swallow food and liquids.