Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dysphagia: What Causes Trouble Swallowing?

Dysphagia is a term used to describe difficulty swallowing. When someone has this condition, moving food from their mouth to their stomach takes more effort than usual. Typically caused by muscle or nerve issues, dysphagia can be a painful condition to live with. While it’s more common in older adults and infants, it can affect individuals of any age.

Dysphagia can be the result of several potential causes. If it only happens once or twice, it’s unlikely to be due to a severe underlying medical problem. However, if you’re experiencing difficulty swallowing regularly, getting checked out by a doctor is best.

What is Dysphagia, Exactly?

A typical swallowing motion involves the use of several different muscles and nerves. While you might not give it much thought while drinking coffee or eating dinner, swallowing is surprisingly complex. As such, dysphagia can be caused by difficulty anywhere in the swallowing process.

There are three main types of dysphagia:

  • Oral dysphagia: The condition is within the mouth. It might result from weakness of the tongue due to a stroke, problems transporting food to the throat, or difficulty chewing food.
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia: This type of dysphagia occurs in the throat. It’s often caused by neurological problems affecting the nerves, like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
  • Esophageal dysphagia: The issues occur in the esophagus, usually as a result of an irritation or blockage. In severe cases, surgery is required.

Possible Causes of Dysphagia

Several conditions and factors have the potential to cause dysphagia. These may be mechanical, neurological, or a combination of the two. Some common causes include:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Head and neck tumors
  • Motor Neurone disease
  • Psychological reasons
  • Invasive surgery

Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia

Some common signs and symptoms that somebody suffering from dysphagia may display include:

  • Collecting food in the mouth
  • Coughing at mealtimes or when drinking
  • Reduced ability to cough
  • Poor lip closure or drooling
  • Slurred or imprecise speech (dysarthria)
  • Altered voice quality (dysphonia)
  • Chest infection
  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Gastric reflux
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration

Treatment Options for Dysphagia


A speech therapist can teach you techniques designed to strengthen your throat muscles and make it easier for you to swallow successfully.

Diet Changes

Your healthcare provider may advise you to eliminate certain foods that are hard to swallow from your diet and focus on those that are easier to swallow. This may involve using products designed to alter the texture and consistency of difficult-to-swallow foods. For example, you might puree solid foods or achieve different consistencies and flavors with SimplyThick for liquids.


Sometimes, medication may be prescribed to treat the underlying cause of the dysphagia. Esophageal dysphagia, in particular, can result from several conditions, including GERD, radiation therapy, and foreign bodies. Corticosteroids, proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), antacids, and muscle relaxants are some medications that your doctor may prescribe.

If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your primary care physician, who can determine the underlying issue and help you get the needed treatment.

Lindsey Ertz
Lindsey Ertz
Lindsey, a curious soul from NY, is a technical, business writer, and journalist. Her passion lies in crafting well-researched, data-driven content that delivers authentic information to global audiences, fostering curiosity and inspiration.

Related Articles