Swallowing Disorders

iStock_000016133665_XXXLarge.jpgSwallowing disorders, also called dysphagia, can occur at any stage of the swallowing process, and many diseases, conditions or surgical interventions can result in swallowing problems. Some signs include coughing during or after eating or drinking and extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow food. As a result of swallowing disorders, people may have poor nutrition, dehydration or can aspirate food (i.e., inhaling food into the airway), leading to problems with the lungs like pneumonia.

Possible Causes

There are many causes of swallowing disorders including but not limited to:

  • Damage to the nervous system: stroke, brain injury, multiple sclerosis
  • Problems with the head and neck: cancer of the mouth, throat, or esophagus, injury or surgery of the head and neck

Diagnosis

Swallowing disorders are diagnosed by the medical history, physical exam, and observing the posture, behavior, and oral movements during eating and drinking. Specialized testing also helps with diagnosis and includes barium swallow – in which liquid dye is swallowed and X-rays are taken while the patient swallows – and endoscopy – in which a lighted scope is inserted through the nose and swallowing can be visualized on a screen.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the cause, symptoms and type of swallowing disorder. It may include exercises to help improve muscle movement and drinking specific types of liquids that are easier and safer to swallow.