Difficulty Swallowing Food? Learn the Facts About Dysphagia

 

Swallowing is a function of our body that we do every day and give very little thought as to how it is achieved. We consider it to be a simple accomplishment, but in fact, it is very complex and involves the coordination of the brain, nerves, and muscles in mouth, pharynx and esophagus.

Jamaica Hospital's Division of Gastroenterology can help diagnose and treat people with swallowing disorders

For some however, swallowing can become difficult or even impossible. This may be due to a range of diseases, commonly referred to as dysphagia. This category of health conditions can become a serious problem that requires medical attention.

There are generally two different types of dysphagia.

  • Esophageal dysphagia – This refers to the sensation of food getting stuck in the base of your throat or chest after you’ve started to swallow. This type of dysphagia can be caused by a number of issues, including a narrowing of the esophagus due to tumors or scarring, poorly coordinated contractions or spasms in the esophagus, or the lower esophageal muscle not allowing food to enter the stomach.
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia – This focuses on swallowing issues that involve the process of moving food from the mouth to the throat when you begin to swallow. Causes for this type of dysphagia are often related to neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease. It can also occur after sudden neurological damage from a stroke or spinal cord injury.

Swallowing problems can occur at any age, but they are more common in older adults. Symptoms include:

  • Having pain while swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Being hoarse
  • Regurgitating food
  • Having frequent heartburn
  • Having food or stomach acid back up into your throat
  • Losing weight without explanation
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing

In addition to the constant risk of choking, dysphagia can also introduce bacteria into the lungs when food enters the airway, leading to aspiration pneumonia. Other complications from dysphagia include malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration.

Treatment for dysphagia depends on the underlying cause. On some occasions the condition can be managed easily while complex swallowing problems may require treatment by a specialist.

Those with swallowing problems can do many things to manage their condition, including sitting upright or standing while eating and for 15 minutes after eating, cutting up food into small pieces, eating slowly, and drinking plenty of fluids while eating.

To make an an appointment with a doctor at Jamaica Hospital’s Division of Gastroenterology, please call 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.

It’s GERD Awareness Week – Learn How to Avoid This Digestive Disorder

Perhaps there is no other day of the year associated with eating more than Thanksgiving. With so much attention being paid to food consumption, it is fitting that this week we also raise awareness about a health condition that affects the digestive system.

November 19-25, 2017 has been designated Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (or GERD) Awareness Week. GERD, is a very common disorder that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe and irritates the lining.

After it is swallowed, food travels down the esophagus where it stimulates cells in the stomach to produce acid and pepsin (an enzyme), which aid the digestion process. A band of muscle at the lower part of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), acts as a barrier to prevent the back-flow. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately, allowing the stomach’s contents to flow up into the esophagus.

Chronic heartburn is the most frequently reported symptom of GERD. Acid regurgitation (refluxed acid into the mouth) is another common symptom. Other symptoms can include belching, difficulty or pain when swallowing, or waterbrash (sudden excess of saliva). GERD may also lead to chronic sore throat, laryngitis, throat clearing, chronic cough, and other oral complaints such as inflammation of the gums and erosion of the enamel of the teeth.

Dietary and lifestyle choices can contribute to GERD. Certain foods and beverages, including chocolate, peppermint, fried or fatty foods, coffee, or alcohol may trigger reflux. Studies show that smoking can relax the LES and contribute to this condition. People who are obese are more prone to developing GERD symptoms.

Doctors recommend lifestyle and dietary changes for most people needing treatment for GERD. Along with lifestyle and diet changes, your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter remedies, or, in serious cases, prescribe medications designed to reduce acid in the stomach.

To speak to a doctor about treating your GERD, please call Jamaica Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center at 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.