What is dysphagia and what are its symptoms?
Dysphagia refers to when a patient experiences trouble swallowing. While this may occur when food is eaten too fast or not chewed properly, it may also be a serious medical condition that requires medical attention.
The condition is usually caused due to an issue in the upper part of the digestive tract. Often, this is due to a problem in the oesophagus, although problems in the mouth or heart are also leading factors.
Symptoms usually include:
- Not being able to swallow
- Pain while swallowing
- The sensation that food is stuck in your throat or chest
- Difficulty communicating
How is dysphagia tested and treated?
Apart from a diagnosis confirmed by asking about your symptoms, other tests include:
- A swallowing study/video fluoroscopy - here you will eat different foods coated with a substance known as barium. X-rays will then be taken to determine if you have problems with the muscles in your mouth or throat.
- Upper endoscopy - here, a thin tube with a camera will be inserted into your mouth and into your oesophagus for observation.
In terms of treatment, this will depend on what’s causing the dysphagia. If this condition is being caused by your mouth or throat, you may be referred to a speech or swallowing specialist who can teach techniques to help you swallow.
If the issue is your oesophagus, you may have to undergo oesophageal dilation. Here, your doctor uses an endoscope with a special balloon at the end to stretch and widen your oesophagus. You may even require surgery. Here, any tumours or abnormal tissue in the oesophagus will be removed. Alternatively, medication may be your only course of treatment.
Where can I get a barium swallow test?
You can get a barium swallow test at a certified gastrointestinal clinic.
When should I be worried about dysphagia?
If dysphagia prevents you from eating for a long period, you should seek medical help as soon as possible, as it could lead to eating disorders and malnutrition.
How long does a barium swallow test take?
The test may take up to 30 minutes.
What kind of doctor do you see for swallowing difficulties?
Can anxiety cause swallowing problems?
Anxiety can cause the muscles in the oesophagus to constrict, making swallowing difficult.
How can you relax your throat when you have anxiety?
- Tilt your head forward and hold it in that position for ten seconds. Then bring it back to the normal position.
- Roll your head to one side and hold it that way for ten seconds, then repeat the action for the other side.
- Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and hold them up for five seconds and repeat this five times.
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