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.
The process of swallowing involves several steps. These include
There are many nerves that help 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 the workings of the muscles of the mouth and throat.
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. These may include:
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.
Other symptoms may include:
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 look for:
A test called upper endoscopy (EGD) is often done.
Other tests may include:
You may also need to have blood tests to look for disorders that could cause swallowing problems.
The treatment for your swallowing problem depends on the cause.
It is important to learn how to eat and drink safely. Incorrect swallowing may lead to choking or breathing food or liquid into your main airway. This can lead to pneumonia.
Medicines that may be used depend on the cause, and may include:
Procedures and surgeries that may be used include:
If your symptoms are severe and you are unable to eat and drink enough, or you have problems choking or pneumonia, you may need a feeding tube.
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:
Dysphagia; Impaired swallowing; Choking - food; Globus sensation
Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's 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, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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