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Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, are conditions whereby one takes more time and effort to move food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia can impact both health and quality of life if not addressed in a timely manner.

Symptoms of Swallowing Disorders

  • Drooling
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Regurgitation (food coming back up)
  • Food or stomach acid backing up into the throat
  • Weight loss
  • A feeling that food is becoming trapped in your throat, chest, or breastbone (sternum)

Causes of Swallowing Disorders

There are certain conditions that can cause swallowing disorders. These include:

Damage to the brain or nerves as a result of:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injury

Problems with the head, neck, or esophagus, such as:

  • Mouth or neck surgery
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat, or esophagus
  • Bad teeth, missing teeth, or dentures that do not fit well
  • Head or neck injuries

Types of Dysphagia

There are two main types of dysphagia:

  • Esophageal dysphagia
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia

Diagnosis of Swallowing Disorders

During the diagnosis of swallowing disorders, the specialist will:

  • Inquire about your health, past illnesses, surgeries, and swallowing problems
  • Examine how well your mouth muscles move
  • Observe you eat, how you feed yourself, and what happens when you swallow and observe how you sit.
  • Perform tests which include:
  1. Endoscopic assessment: This allows the specialist to observe how you swallow on a screen.
  2. Modified barium swallow: This test requires that you eat or drink food or liquid with barium. Barium appears on an X-ray, allowing the doctor to monitor the movement of the food.

Treatment for Swallowing Disorders

The type of treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the swallowing disorder. The treatment options include:

  • Peroral Endoscopic Myotomy (POEM)
  • Stent placement to open a narrowed or blocked esophagus
  • Dilation of the esophagus
  • Relaxation of the esophagus muscle using botulinum toxin type A
  • Surgery in cases of achalasia or tumor in the esophagus
  • Medication such as acid reflux medication
  • Changing food consistency
  • Speech therapy
  • Tube feeding

The specialist can assist in improving your swallowing skills through:

  • Treatment to encourage you to chew and swallow by using your muscles.
  • Direction on how to sit or hold your head when eating
  • Introducing methods to make swallowing safer and better
  • Encourage eating softer foods or drinking thicker beverages
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