Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, are a group of conditions that cause difficulty in the passage of food or fluid from the esophagus into the stomach. These conditions can be caused by a lack of coordination of the nerves and muscles in the upper digestive tract, infections, cancerous or benign tumors or a neurologic disorder like stroke.
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The most common symptoms of a swallowing disorder include:
- Choking or coughing when swallowing
- Feeling of a lump in your throat
- Nasal regurgitation – food or fluid comes back up into the nose
- Pain or tightness in your throat or chest during swallowing (odynophagia)
- Regurgitation of food or liquid back into the mouth or throat
- Sensation that food or liquid is stuck in your throat
- Weight loss
UH Experts Offer Advanced Diagnostics and Treatment for Swallowing Disorders
Our goal is to help patients regain control of their swallowing abilities. Our specialized, multidisciplinary team offers comprehensive care that leverages leading therapies for the effective diagnosis and treatment of the following swallowing problems:
Personalized Treatment Plans
The upper GI specialist care team at University Hospitals understands that each patient needs a personalized treatment plan to meet their goals. Our multidisciplinary team uses proven techniques in swallowing and voice therapeutics, many of which can be administered on an outpatient basis.
- Barium swallow with x-ray
For the diagnosis or evaluation of problems in the throat and esophagus, a solution of barium sulfate is swallowed which allows X-rays to identify or track the path of the solution through your digestive tract.
To determine a nerve or muscle disorder, electromyography provides an assessment of the muscles and nerve cells that control muscle function.
- Laryngeal botulinum toxin injection
Botulinum toxin or Botox injections are used to relax muscles by blocking nerve signals.
Using a laryngoscope, this examination is used to clearly see the throat, larynx and voice box to diagnose conditions that may affect swallowing function.
- Transnasal esophagoscopy
An upper endoscopic procedure without sedation, this allows for the careful examination of the lining of your esophagus.
- Videostroboscopy or stroboscopy
Using controlled flashes of light, images are produced to show vocal vibration during sound production to help determine any issues that may affect swallowing or other functions.
Diagnosing and treating swallowing disorders requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Your UH gastroenterologist will typically take the lead in your care, while consulting and working with a variety of other specialists including:
- Ear, nose and throat physicians
- Speech therapists
Understanding the Risk Factors for Swallowing Disorders
Many health conditions and lifestyle choices can cause swallowing disorders. While some of these risk factors are out of your control, it is important to attempt to manage the factors you can control. Risk factors include:
- Conditions that cause the esophagus to narrow (esophageal stricture)
- Excessive alcohol use
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Muscle in esophagus does not relax
- Neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
- Poor dental health
- Taking certain medications
- Tumors, both benign or cancerous