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.

Liver Cirrhosis: Symptoms and Treatment

Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly. The scar tissue blocks the flow of blood through the liver and slows the processing of nutrients, hormones, drugs, and naturally produced toxins. It also slows the production of proteins and other substances made by the liver. According to the National Institutes of Health, cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death by disease.

The symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver vary with the stage of the illness. In the beginning stages, there may not be any symptoms. As the disease worsens, symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy (fatigue), which may be debilitating
  • Weight loss or sudden weight gain
  • Bruises
  • Yellowing of skin or the whites of eyes (jaundice)
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid retention (edema) and swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen (often an early sign)
  • A brownish or orange tint to the urine
  • Light colored stools
  • Confusion, disorientation, personality changes
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fever

Cirrhosis of the liver can be diagnosed through a physical exam, blood tests, biopsy and surgery. During a physical exam, your doctor can observe changes in how your liver feels or how large it is (a cirrhotic liver is bumpy and irregular instead of smooth). If your doctor suspects cirrhosis, you will be given blood tests to find out if liver disease is present. In some cases, cirrhosis is diagnosed during surgery when the doctor is able to see the entire liver. The liver also can be inspected through a laparoscope, a viewing device that is inserted through a tiny incision in the abdomen.

Although there is no cure for cirrhosis of the liver, there are treatments available that can stop or delay its progress, minimize the damage to liver cells, and reduce complications. For cirrhosis caused by alcohol abuse, the person must stop drinking alcohol to halt the progression of cirrhosis. Medications may be given to control the symptoms of cirrhosis. Liver transplantation may be needed for some people with severe cirrhosis.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of liver cirrhosis schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. The Department of Gastroenterology at Jamaica Hospital specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. To schedule an appointment, please call 718-206-7001.