Dysphagia is a term that describes difficulty swallowing liquids or solids. There are two types of dysphagia, Esophageal and Oropharyngeal. Esophageal Dysphagia describes the sensation of food sticking in the base of your throat or chest after starting to swallow. Oropharyngeal Dysphagia is the weakening on the throat muscles making it difficult to move food from your mouth to your throat and esophagus, causing choking, gagging or coughing when you try to swallow. Dysphagia can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia and even death.
A number of internal conditions can cause Esophageal Dysphagia. Older adults with dentures or people who have difficulty chewing are more likely to have a piece of food become lodged in their throat, causing difficulty swallowing. Radiation therapy can also cause dysphagia.
Neurological disorders (multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease) and neurological damage resulting from a stroke or brain or spinal cord injury can cause Oropharyngeal Dysphagia. Certain cancers and cancer treatments, such as radiation, can also result in dysphagia.
If dysphagia is suspected your healthcare provider will run a series of tests. A medical assessment is followed by tests such as swallowing barium while being x-rayed. He or she will also check for difficulty with swallowing different liquids and solids.
If dysphagia is confirmed, a treatment plan must be put into place. The most common approach includes a number of treatments. Some of these treatments are used to improve the patient’s swallowing, while others attempt to redirect flow of chewed food away from the airway entrance. An example of a method to redirect flow of food would be positioning the patient’s head in a chin-down position. Another example is the “double or repeat swallow,” in which the patient swallows multiple times to clear the chewed food away from the airway. Other treatments target dietary changes such as changing the consistency of foods and liquids.
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