Difficulty in Swallowing

The act of swallowing is governed by the functioning of many nerves and muscles that help food move from the mouth, down the oesophagus and into the stomach for digestion. The difficulty, or inability to swallow food or liquid is also called dysphagia.

Dysphagia feels like food or liquid is stuck in some part of your throat or gullet while swallowing. Other symptoms experienced can include; choking, coughing, chest pain, pressure or heaviness in the neck or chest, reflux, regurgitation of undigested food, nausea and a sour taste in the mouth.

There are many causes of difficulty swallowing including

  • Stress and anxiety which can often lead to tightness in the throat
  • Neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
  • Oesophageal diseases such as eosinophilic oesophagitis (asthma of the oesophagus) cancer, achalasia (muscle dysfunction), scarring, chest tumour and scleroderma (immune system disorder that attacks the oesophagus)
  • Others

If you present to the clinic with difficulty swallowing, your doctor will order a series of tests to look for problems with the muscles, narrowing, blockages or changes in the oesophageal lining.

  • A gastroscopy may be performed, where a thin tube fitted with camera is inserted down your throat to detect abnormalities.
  • Other tests to assess the diagnosis include chest and neck X-rays, barium swallow test (barium solution is swallowed and coats the oesophageal and stomach linings and is detected by X-ray imaging), oesophageal pH and pressure monitoring, and blood tests.

Treatment involves identifying and treating the underlying condition. There are numerous options, but these may include

  • Dietary modification
  • Prescription of medications to treat underlying condition such as heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eosinophilic oesohagitis and infections.
  • Dilation of the oesophagus to expand any narrowed area.
  • An endoscopy or surgery may be performed to remove obstructions in the oesophagus (tumour or achalasia).
  • Other surgeries