Swallowing involves chewing food and moving it into the back of the mouth to transport it down the esophagus, the tube that moves food to the stomach.
Difficulty with swallowing is the feeling that food or liquid is stuck in the throat or at any point before the food enters the stomach. This problem is also called dysphagia.
Swallowing is a complex act. Many nerves work in a fine balance to control how the muscles of the mouth, throat, and esophagus work together. Much of swallowing occurs without you being aware of what you are doing.
A brain or nerve disorder can alter this fine balance in the muscles of the mouth and throat.
Stress or anxiety may cause some people to feel tightness in the throat, or feel as if something is stuck in the throat. This is called globus hystericus.
Problems that involve the esophagus often cause swallowing problems, including:
Chest pain, the feeling of food stuck in the throat, or heaviness or pressure in the neck or upper or lower chest may be present, as well as:
You may have problems swallowing with any eating or drinking, or only with certain types of foods or liquids. Difficulty eating very hot or cold foods, dry crackers or bread, meat, or chicken may be an early sign of swallowing problems.
Your doctor will order tests to identify problems, such as:
A test called upper endoscopy (EGD) is often done.
Other tests may include:
Blood tests may be needed to identify certain disorders that can cause swallowing problems.
The treatment for your swallowing problem depends on the cause.
It is important to learn how to eat and drink safely. Not swallowing correctly may lead to choking or breathing food or liquid into your main airway. This can lead to pneumonia.
Managing swallowing problems at home is an important step if the problem does not go away.
Medicines that may be used depend on the cause, and may include:
Procedures and surgeries that may be used include:
Call your health care provider if swallowing problems do not improve after a few days, or they come and go.
Call your doctor right away if:
Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 140.
Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 42.
Updated by: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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