Dysphagia is the difficulty in swallowing food or liquid. Most people suffering from dysphagia are unaware of their medical condition and only realize it in later stages. When not diagnosed and treated in time, it may lead to aspiration pneumonia (lung infection occurring due to food particles or saliva entering the lung), weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition. Some of the symptoms include:
- Having the feeling of food getting stuck in the chest or throat.
- Food or stomach acid coming back up into the throat
- Hoarseness of the throat
- Gagging and coughing while swallowing
- Experiencing pain while swallowing
There are two types of dysphagia:
This is also known as low dysphagia and is the condition in which one can sense food getting stuck in the throat or chest area. The problem lies in the esophagus. Generally, the surgical procedure is required to solve the problem. Some of the causes of low dysphagia include-
- Achalasia- lower muscles in the esophagus do not allow food to enter the stomach.
- Diffuse spasm- Uncontrolled contractions of the lower esophagus after swallowing food.
- Esophageal stricture- Narrowing of the passage of esophagus making it difficult for food to pass. It often leads to GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
- Esophageal Ring- A narrowing of the lower portion of the esophagus
- Scleroderma- Autoimmune disease where it leads to hardening and stiffening of body tissues.
This is also known as high dysphagia and is the condition where the throat muscles become weak making it difficult to swallow food. Some of the causes for high dysphagia include- stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Zenker’s Diverticulum (a condition in which food particles get accumulated inside a small pouch in your throat) and cancer.
Depending on the type of dysphagia, you will be advised any one of the treatment courses available. It can range from swallowing therapy, dietary changes, feeding tubes and medications to even surgery. The treatment is carried out by a multidisciplinary team. A multidisciplinary team includes- a speech-language pathologist, primary physician, gastroenterologist, dietitian, therapist, radiologist and pharmacist. The treatments for dysphagia include:
- Swallowing Therapy- If you are suffering from high dysphagia, you will be referred to speech and language therapists. You will be taught a number of exercises to make the process of swallowing easier and simple.
- Dietary Changes- In this method, you will be referred to a dietician or nutritionist. You will be advised a well-balanced and healthy diet that may include more liquid and semi-liquid food.
- Feeding Tube- When swallowing becomes extremely difficult and the patient is at risk of suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, the patient is usually fed through a nasogastric tube which passes through the nose and into the stomach. PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy) tube which is directly implanted in your stomach.
- Dilation- People suffering from low dysphagia have to undergo surgery. One of the methods is dilation. Through endoscopy, images of inside the throat is taken and a small balloon is inserted.
- Botulinum Toxin (Botox) - One of the causes for low dysphagia is achalasia. In such cases, botulinum toxin is used to relax and weaken the stiff and hardened muscles of the esophagus.
These were some of the treatment options for dysphagia that prove it is treatable and can be cured easily. Generally, dysphagia occurs in older people and babies. Whatever may be the cause, the main purpose of the treatment of dysphagia is to make the patient go back to oral feeding.