What is Dysphagia?

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What Is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is the formal term for swallowing difficulties that can occur involving various parts of the swallowing process. The reason why it is important to seek out appropriate evaluation and treatment is because it may lead to aspiration pneumonia, malnutrition, dehydration, choking, and even death. The limitations in food textures and options can also lead to less enjoyment and possible feelings of isolation around eating and drinking. 

How Do I Know If I Have It?
Some of the signs and symptoms can include:

  • A sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Coughing or throat clearing during and after eating or drinking
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Food coming back up 
  • Frequent heartburn/reflux
  • Weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration

These signs and symptoms can vary in severity and combinations. They can also change over time which is why it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Why Could I have Dysphagia?
There are many causes of dysphagia that can impact or damage the central nervous system and/or cranial nerves, brain cortesis, or the anatomy of the head and neck such as tongue, vocal folds, esophagus, etc. Some of the leading causes are:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Dementia
  • Head or neck cancer
  • Chemoradiation or radiation as treatment for head and neck cancer
  • Trauma or surgery involving the head or neck
  • Critical care that may have included oral intubation and/or tracheostomy
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Pulmonary diseases 


How Can I Get Help?
If you notice any signs and symptoms you can immediately go to your health provider to further discuss your eating and drinking difficulties. You can also seek out a speech-language pathologist near you who specializes in dysphasia. 

Will It Go Away?
While it may be possible that your original swallowing abilities may never fully resolve with therapy and changes in diet, you may see improvements. This can greatly reduce your risk for aspiration pneumonia and can improve your enjoyment of eating and drinking. 

References:
(2021, October 20). Dysphagia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dysphagia/symptoms-causes/syc-20372028

Adult Dysphagia. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. https://www.asha.org/practice-portal/clinical-topics/adult-dysphagia/#collapse_6 
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