(Dysphagia, Esophageal; Difficulty Swallowing [Esophagus])
Dysphagia refers to difficulties during the swallowing process. Esophageal dysphagia occurs when swallowing problems happen in the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that transports food from the throat to the stomach
Esophagus and Stomach
A number of conditions can cause esophageal dysphagia, such as:
- Achalasia —affects the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus
- Scleroderma —causes thickening and stiffening of tissues, joints, and organs; can lead to problems with the esophageal muscles
- Esophageal stricture or esophageal ring—causes the esophagus to become more narrow
- Esophageal tumors
- Infectious esophagitis
- Caustic esophagitis
- Foreign bodies
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
Many conditions and factors may increase your risk of esophageal dysphagia, like:
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing solids, liquids, or both
- A sensation of food being stuck in the esophagus
- Pain when swallowing
- Heartburn, regurgitation
- Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
- Wheezing, hoarse voice
- Weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to problems with eating and drinking
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests will be done to assess your swallowing function. These may include:
- Swallowing test to observe what happens when you swallow
- Videofluorographic swallowing study (VFSS)
Your throat may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Your esophageal muscles may be tested. This can be done with an esophageal manometry test.
Treatment depends on the cause, but may include:
- Esophageal dilation —Placing a tube-shaped device into the esophagus to widen the narrow part.
- Dietary changes—You may need to avoid eating foods that cause problems, like meat. Or you may need to eat only pureed food. In severe cases, a feeding tube may be needed to provide nutrition.
- Therapy to improve swallowing—such as learning ways to prevent choking while eating.
You can reduce your risk by getting early treatment for any related condition, like GERD.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Dysphagia Research Society
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist
Communication facts: special populations: dysphagia—2008 edition. American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/Research/reports/dysphagia. Published 2008. Accessed August 13, 2013.
Dysphagia. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: http://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Dysphagia.aspx. Accessed August 13, 2013.
Dysphagia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 2, 2013. Accessed August 13, 2013.
Dysphagia. World Gastroenterology Organisation website. Available at: http://www.worldgastroenterology.org/assets/downloads/en/pdf/guidelines/08_dysphagia.pdf. Published 2007. Accessed August 13, 2013.
Font J, Underbrink M. Esophageal dysphagia. University of Texas Medical Branch website. Available at: http://www.utmb.edu/otoref/grnds/esoph-dysphagia-080206/esoph-dysphagia-slides-080206.pdf. Published February 6, 2008. Accessed August 14, 2013.
Palmer J, Drennan J, Baba M. Evaluation and treatment of swallowing impairments. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Apr 15;61(8):2453-62. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000415/2453.html. Accessed August 14, 2013.
05/21/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Regan J, Murphy A, et al. Botulinum toxin for upper oesophageal sphincter dysfunction in neurological swallowing disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;5:CD009968.
Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.