Problem in Swallowing Food – Dealing With Dysphagia

Difficulty in swallowing is medically termed as dysphagia. This is a symptom, and not a disease in itself. It includes various different disorders or medical conditions that give the feeling (sensation) or actually cause difficulty in swallowing.

Why Does Dysphagia Occur?

Food is taken in from the mouth, properly chewed to break it down into small fragments, then swallowed to pass through the food pipe (esophagus). Food approaches the stomach where a door like opening (pyloric sphincter) opens to let it in.

Any problem in this passage can give the feeling of dysphagia. We will discuss problems leading to this symptom starting from the most common ones.

Globus Hystericus

This is an emotional problem basically. It is grouped among anxiety disorders. Our psyche rule over our body functioning. The nervous system and the hormonal system of the body are the two ways via which our psyche controls over all body functions. When we get very anxious, nervous (panic nervousness) or tensed, the muscles of the pharynx are not able to relax fully. This gives a feeling of obstruction in the passage of food. The food is somewhat stuck up in the throat.

Diagnosis is made by ruling out all other causes of dysphagia on investigations. Then the patient is put on anti-anxiety therapy. This includes medications as well as a comprehensive counseling covering techniques for relaxation.

Strictures (Narrowing) in the Passage of Food

This may be caused by radiation, chemical ingestion or ulcers. Here an actual obstruction is present obstructing food to reach the stomach. The patient has a sensation of food stuck up somewhere in the food pipe. Sometimes he may even vomit out.

Diagnosis is made by investigations. A barium swallow and upper GI series is carried out. Here the patient is asked to drink a dye which enters the food pipe. Now pictures (X-rays) of the food pipe are taken. The path of flow of the dye shows points of obstructions.

Endoscopy may be done. Here a very slender tube carrying a torch and a camera at its tip is inserted through the mouth. This is slowly pushed inside and the food is inspected for the presence of any strictures.

Nerve and Muscle Problems in the Food Pipe

The food pipe (esophagus) is a muscular tube. When food passes through it , it contracts and relaxes periodically. These contractions and relaxations are controlled by nerves.

Nerve and muscle problems include conditions like Achalasia, Diffuse esophageal spasm, Hypertensive lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle at the end of the esophagus that allows food to pass into the stomach), Scleroderma (an autoimmune condition).

Certain medicines that relax the muscles in the esophagus can be used. These include nitrates, a type of medicine used to treat blood pressure, and dicyclomine.

Presence of Any Tumor in the Esophagus

This is diagnosed by endoscopy, after a biopsy is taken. Treatment is done according to the stage and type of the tumor.

Home Care

For all kinds of dysphagia, general home care can be included in the treatment regimen.

  • Eat slowly, and chew food thoroughly.
  • Some people notice that liquids are swallowed more easily than solids. They may also be able to swallow pureed food or baby food.
  • Avoid very cold or very hot foods if you notice that they worsen the problem.

Go for a diagnosis at the earliest. Treatments are simpler when problems are detected earlier.

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