The Vocal Point

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a medical condition that affects the ability to swallow food, liquids, or saliva. It can occur at any age but is more common in older adults. Dysphagia is a serious condition that can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia, and even death. Therefore, it is important to understand the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of dysphagia.

Causes of Dysphagia

Dysphagia can be caused by a variety of factors, including neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. In these cases, the brain’s ability to control the muscles responsible for swallowing is compromised. Dysphagia can also be caused by medical conditions such as GERD, esophageal spasm, and achalasia. These conditions can cause the muscles in the esophagus to malfunction, making it difficult to swallow food and liquids. Certain medications can also cause dysphagia as a side effect. For example, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and some antidepressants can all affect the muscles responsible for swallowing.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

The symptoms of dysphagia can vary depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. However, some common symptoms include difficulty swallowing food, liquids, or saliva, feeling like food or liquids are getting stuck in the throat or chest, coughing or choking while eating or drinking, regurgitation of food or liquids, unintended weight loss, dehydration, and malnutrition. Dysphagia can also lead to aspiration pneumonia when food or liquids are accidentally inhaled into the lungs, causing inflammation and infection.

Diagnosis of Dysphagia

If you experience any of the symptoms of dysphagia, it is important to seek medical attention. A Speech Language Pathologist can perform various tests to diagnose the underlying cause of dysphagia.

One common test is a video fluoroscopy swallow study also known as a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS). This test involves swallowing a special liquid that contains barium, which shows up on X-rays. Healthcare providers can then observe the muscles in your throat and esophagus as you swallow the liquid. This can help identify any muscle weakness or other abnormalities that may be causing dysphagia.

Another test that may be used to diagnose dysphagia is an Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of the Swallow (FEES). This involves using a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end to look at the inside of the throat and esophagus. This can help identify any blockages, inflammation, or other issues that may be causing dysphagia.

Treatment of Dysphagia

The treatment of dysphagia will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. In some cases, dysphagia may be treated with medications, such as muscle relaxants or antibiotics to treat aspiration pneumonia. In other cases, dysphagia may require more specialized treatment, such as surgery or the use of a feeding tube. In addition to medical treatments, there are also a variety of strategies that can be used to help manage dysphagia. These may include modifying the texture of food and liquids to make them easier to swallow, practicing certain exercises to strengthen the muscles used in swallowing, and working with a speech-language pathologist to develop therapy techniques to help with swallowing.

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