Most of the time, swallowing food or drink is something everyone does without thinking much about. When this happens, the muscles in your throat and esophagus contract, and food is easily moved from your mouth to your stomach. In some cases, however, swallowing can become difficult, which can indicate a medical problem.
In this blog, Manhattan gastroenterologist Dr. Anthony Borcich will explain swallowing issues, including dysphagia symptoms.
What is dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a condition that makes moving food or drink from your mouth to your stomach more difficult than usual. It may be painful to swallow, and in some cases, it may even be impossible. This condition can happen to anyone, but it’s most common in older adults, people who have brain or nervous system issues, and babies.
If it happens once or twice, it may not be cause for concern, but if it occurs on an ongoing basis, you made need treatment.
What are some common dysphagia symptoms?
Common dysphagia symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty swallowing foods or liquids
- Being unable to swallow
- Pain while swallowing
- Feeling as though food is stuck in your throat, chest, or behind your breastbone
- Having foods or liquids come back up through your throat, nose, or mouth
- Gagging or coughing when you swallow
- Frequent heartburn
- Acid backing up into your throat
- Unintentional weight loss
- Avoiding certain foods because they’re hard to swallow
- The need to cut food up into very small pieces and chew them extremely thoroughly
What are the causes of dysphagia?
Two main types of problems can make swallowing difficult – when your muscles and nerves that move food and liquid through your throat and esophagus aren’t working properly, and when something is blocking your throat or esophagus.
These issues can develop because of the following reasons:
- Issues related to muscles and nerves
- A stroke or brain or spinal cord injury
- Nervous system problems, including multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Immune system problems
- Esophageal spasms
- Scleroderma, which causes the esophageal tissues to become hard and narrow
Blockages can occur if you have the following conditions:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – stomach acid backing up into your esophagus can cause ulcers and scarring, which makes your esophagus narrower
- Esophagitis – an inflamed esophagus
- Esophageal ring – a thin, narrowed area in the lower esophagus
- Diverticula – the formation of small sacs in the throat or esophageal walls
- Esophageal growths
- Growths outside the esophagus
- Foreign bodies – such as food or another object that’s partially blocking your throat or esophagus
- Radiation therapy – can cause the esophagus to become inflamed and scarred
What are the treatment options for dysphagia?
Treatment for dysphagia depends on the cause of your swallowing disorder. Some common treatment options include:
- Esophageal dilation – Your doctor can stretch and expand your esophagus by using an endoscope (a lighted tube) with a special balloon attached.
- Medication – If your dysphagia is related to GERD, you may need to take medications to help reduce stomach acid, and if you have esophagitis, you may need to take corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Antibiotics can be used to clear up an infection in your esophagus.
- Surgery – Surgery can help clear the esophageal path of tumors or diverticula.
Along with other forms of treatment, you can also try eating smaller, more frequent meals and eating more slowly.
Where can I find treatment for dysphagia in NYC?
Dr. Anthony Borcich has more than three decades of experience and is dedicated to providing the highest level of compassionate, expert care to each patient. He is a dual fellowship trained gastroenterologist who performs procedures in Manhattan’s newest and most modern endoscopy center. Dr. Borcich is affiliated with Mount Sinai and Lenox Hill hospitals, giving him prompt access to a wide variety of additional experts when needed.
If you’re having dysphagia symptoms, make an appointment with Dr. Borcich today. He’ll diagnose the cause of your swallowing problems and recommend the most effective, least invasive approach to correct the issue.