Dysphagia makes it hard to swallow food, fluids or, in some cases, saliva. As a result, dysphagia can cause weight loss, choking and regular chest infections. It can also make you feel awkward when you’re eating and drinking.
Although it can happen occasionally, dysphagia is usually a long-term (chronic) condition. It’s more likely to develop when you’re older, but dysphagia can affect adults and children of all ages.
Dysphagia tends to be the result of another health condition. Although it’s not always possible to cure dysphagia, in many cases, dysphagia symptoms can successfully be managed and improved.
Difficulty swallowing is the main symptom of dysphagia. Other symptoms include:
Children with dysphagia may show signs of delayed development and behavioural problems at mealtimes.
If you’re having problems swallowing, pain when swallowing, or any other dysphagia symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible.
Your GP will discuss your dysphagia symptoms and examine your throat. To rule out or confirm possible causes of your dysphagia, they may refer you for tests, including:
If you’ve lost weight and your GP’s concerned that you might be malnourished, they may refer you to a dietitian. Your GP may also refer you to a consultant, perhaps a neurologist, a gastroenterologist or a geriatrician.
There are many different dysphagia causes, including:
Aspiration pneumonia is a serious complication of dysphagia caused by accidentally inhaling food, saliva or stomach acid. If you have dysphagia, seek immediate medical attention if:
If you only have occasional dysphagia, try chewing your food slowly and properly before swallowing.
Chronic, persistent dysphagia requires medical attention. Your dysphagia treatment will depend on the condition that’s triggered your difficulty swallowing.
Once the condition causing your dysphagia’s been diagnosed, your GP or consultant will arrange your treatment, including dysphagia treatment.
Your GP or consultant may arrange speech and language therapy so you can learn different ways of swallowing. If you have severe dysphagia, they may suggest other treatments, such as surgery or alternative feeding methods.