Dysphagia/Swallowing Disorders

What Is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the term used for difficulty in swallowing. Although many people experience dysphagia, it is most common among the elderly. Dysphagia occurs when there is any difficulty in the swallowing process, and can result from many things, such as ill-fitting dentures to neurological problems, such as a stroke.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

Some are all of the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • The sensation that something is sticking in the throat, or that there is a “lump” in the throat
  • Drooling
  • Coughing or choking caused by food, liquid, or saliva not properly swallowed
  • Weight loss or nutritional deficiency due to prolonged problem

Causes of Dysphagia

Causes of dysphagia vary widely. Sometimes it is caused by minor problems such as ill-fitting dentures, injury, or even the common cold. At times dysphagia is one of the side effects of more serious illnesses or problems, such as stroke, or Parkinson’s disease.

Diagnosing Dysphagia

Dysphagia is diagnosed through reviewing a patient’s medical history, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests. Tests may include:

  • Barium swallow and upper GI series
  • Chest x-ray
  • Endoscopy
  • Esophageal acidity test (used to test for gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • Esophageal manometry

Treatment Options

Treatment will be determined by the diagnosed cause of the swallowing difficulty, and can include lifestyle changes, medication, swallowing therapy, or surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

While there are over-the-counter and prescription medications that can be given to help people who suffer from reflux disease, some minor lifestyle changes can also provide great improvement. Recommended changes include:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Eating a bland diet
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Avoid eating 3 hours before bed time
  • Slightly elevate your head while sleeping
  • Use of over-the-counter antacids between meals


Many swallowing disorders can be helped or corrected through the use of medication. Types of medication include antacids or other drugs that treat acid reflux, and muscle relaxers.

Swallowing Therapy

Some disorders will require the patient to relearn the swallowing reflex or ways to take in food or liquid to work around the swallowing disorder. A speech pathologist and perhaps an occupational therapist would be part of the treatment team.


At times surgery may be necessary to treat certain problems. These problems would include a narrowing or stricture of the esophagus, and may need surgery to stretch or dilate the muscle.

Scroll to Top