DYSPHAGIA – SWALLOWING PROBLEMS
Difficulty in swallowing or medically termed as dysphagia is the inability to ingest solid or liquid foods with ease. These people when trying to swallow may choke on their food or liquid. This symptom is not always suggestive of an underlying disease. In fact, it may be transient and go away with any intervention.
There are four nerves and approximately 50 pairs of muscles used to help you swallow. Means that, there are plenty of things that can go wrong with either nerves or muscles and lead to difficulty in swallowing. Some of them include:
- Acid reflux and GORD
- Thyroid Nodule
- Stomach cancer (gastric adenocarcinoma)
- Oesophageal cancer
- Infectious mononucleosis
Tests and Diagnosis
Your doctor will ask a detailed history of your symptoms and do a physical examination of your oral cavity to check for any anatomical deformity, swelling or abnormalities. To find the exact cause, more specialised tests may be required such as
Barium X-ray: X-rays are taken after drinking a thick paste of barium that coats the inner lining of GI tract. It is a translucent substance that gives a clear picture of inside organs at X-rays. It helps a physician see how the oesophagus is functioning and will show the outline and any damage (inflammation, masses etc.) to the digestive tract.
Endoscopy: A thin flexible tube with a light and camera attached to its front is used to see the inner lining of oesophagus and stomach in detail. In case of any inflammation or mass in the lining, your doctor may excise a piece of tissue for further evaluation.
Manometry: The manometry is a test to measure the pressure of the muscles by inserting a tube into your oesophagus while swallowing. It is a special test that checks the tone and power of associated muscles.
Dysphagia is not always indicative of any serious problem. However, treatment is necessary depending on the severity of the symptom. After diagnostic tests mentioned earlier, the gastroenterologist may recommend:
- Diet modification (recommend soft foods)
- Compensatory swallowing strategies
- Exercises to strengthen oesophageal muscles
- Postural modifications while eating that help make swallowing easy
- Treatment of the underlying cause diagnosed by performing special diagnostic tests.