Swallowing Disorders

Swallowing disorders can be very disruptive to your health, but also to your quality of life. Because swallowing is a coordinated function between your mouth, pharynx and esophagus, a range of clinical specialists at University Hospitals provide expertise for clinical management of swallowing disorders. Our team is skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of esophageal swallowing disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract, including:

  • Achalasia or movement disorders of the esophagus
  • Diffuse esophageal spasms or uncoordinated contractions of the esophagus
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia or difficulty swallowing due to a stroke or other neurologic condition
  • Eosinophilic esophagitis from reaction to food allergens
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Ulcers in esophagus related to medications

Our goal is to help patients regain control of their swallowing abilities. Our specialized team offers comprehensive care that leverages leading therapies for effective diagnosis and swallowing disorder treatments, many of which can be administered on an outpatient basis.

Understanding Swallowing Disorder Symptoms

If you or a loved one is having difficulty swallowing, you may need to see a specialist to determine the cause of your symptoms. It is important to be aware of the causes of swallowing disorders, including:

  • Choking or coughing
  • Drooling
  • Feeling of a lump in your throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Pain or tightness in your throat or chest
  • Sensation that food or liquid is stuck in your throat
  • Weight loss or lack of nutrition

Treatment for Swallowing Disorders

The upper GI specialist care team at University Hospitals first understands each patient’s needs to create a personalized treatment plan to meet their goals. Our multidisciplinary team uses proven techniques in swallowing and voice therapeutics, including:

  • 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.
  • Electromyography: To determine a nerve or muscle disorder, electromyography provides an assessment of muscles and the nerve cells that control muscle function.
  • Laryngeal botulinum toxin injection: Botulinum toxin or Botox injections are used to relax muscles by blocking nerve signals.
  • Laryngoscopy: Using a laryngoscope, this examination is used 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 the careful examination of the lining of your esophagus.
  • Videostrogoscopy 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.

Understanding the Risk Factors for Swallowing Disorders

Many health conditions 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. These include:

  • Aging
  • Conditions that cause the esophagus to narrow
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Muscle in esophagus does not relax
  • Neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
  • Smoking
  • Stroke
  • Taking certain medications
  • Teeth or dentures in poor condition
  • Tumors, both benign or cancerous
  • Using alcohol excessively

For More Information about Swallowing Disorders

If you have swallowing issues or have questions about digestive health concerns, contact one of our team members at a location close to you.

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