Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)

When It’s Difficult to Swallow

Swallowing is a complex process. Some 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves must work together to receive food into the mouth, prepare it and move it from the mouth to the stomach. When this process is interrupted, the diagnosis may be dysphagia or difficulty swallowing.

People with dysphagia not only have difficulty swallowing but may also experience pain while swallowing (odynophagia). Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble safely swallowing liquids, foods or saliva. When this happens, eating becomes a challenge. Often, dysphagia makes it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body and can lead to additional serious medical problems.

Dysphagia has many possible causes and happens most frequently in older adults. Any condition that weakens or damages the muscles and nerves used for swallowing may cause dysphagia. For example, people with diseases of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease, often have problems swallowing. Additionally, stroke or head injury may weaken or affect the coordination of the swallowing muscles or limit sensation in the mouth and throat. Infants who are born with a cleft palate are also candidates for the condition.

How We Treat Dysphagia

We consider various treatment options based on the type of dysphagia you have and its severity. We provide a continuum of care here as well, working with a speech-language pathologist, if necessary, to coordinate the evaluation and treatment of the disorder.

A flexible endoscopic evaluation may be performed to view your mouth and throat while swallowing. This can help us find the best treatment options to offer you a safe strategy when swallowing.