What Causes Dysphagia?

what causes dysphagia trouble swallowing

Dysphagia is when you have difficulty swallowing or when you experience pain when swallowing; food you eat gets stuck somewhere in the esophagus and does not reach the stomach. Dysphagia may occur temporarily when you eat food too fast or swallow huge chunks of food which has not been chewed well. If your inability to swallow food persists, for a long time, you should seek medical attention because it could be a symptom of an underlying disease. 

Dysphagia is more common in older people but it can affect a person of any age. Dysphagia is diagnosed by the best GI doctors through taking a medical history, doing a physical examination of your body, and imaging tests. Treatment of dysphagia depends on the cause; the treatment methods can include exercises to relax the muscles that help in swallowing, medications to relax the esophagus, esophageal dilatation, and surgery. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Dysphagia? 

The most common symptom of dysphagia is the inability to swallow food. You may also experience pain when you try swallowing food and this is called odynophagia. 

When you have dysphagia you will feel like there is food that is stuck behind your breast bone. You may also develop a hoarse voice or drooling of saliva when you have dysphagia. When you have dysphagia, the food that cannot pass to the stomach regurgitates to your throat or mouth and you may also experience heartburn. The stomach acid also regurgitates back to your esophagus. When you try to swallow food, you may cough and you may try to chew food harder or cut food into small pieces to try to swallow it. 

Because food does not reach your stomach and intestines for digestion, you may experience significant weight loss. This may put you at risk of malnutrition and dehydration. Malnutrition lowers the body’s immunity and you may be more predisposed to other diseases. Other complications of dysphagia include choking and aspiration pneumonia when the regurgitated food enters the airways. 

What Causes Dysphagia? 

There are two types of dysphagia and each type has its specific causes. The two types of dysphagia are esophageal dysphagia and oropharyngeal dysphagia. The esophageal dysphagia occurs when food gets stuck at the base of your throat or in your chest. The causes of esophageal dysphagia include achalasia which is a weakness of the lower esophageal sphincter. 

Esophageal stricture or narrowing which can be caused by tumors of the esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and scarring of the esophagus can also cause dysphagia. Another cause of esophageal dysphagia is diffuse spasms which are poorly coordinated contractions of the involuntary muscles of the esophagus. 

The esophagus can also be blocked by foreign bodies or by an esophageal ring which refers to the narrowing of the lower esophagus and this can lead to esophageal dysphagia. Eosinophilic esophagitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the esophagus due to food allergies, is also a cause of esophageal dysphagia. Radiation therapy and scleroderma are other causes of esophageal dysphagia. 

Oropharyngeal dysphagia is caused by neurological conditions that affect muscle contraction like Parkinson's disorder and multiple sclerosis. Damage to your nervous system can also cause dysphagia like stroke or spinal cord injury. Radiation therapy and a pharyngoesophageal fistula is another cause of oropharyngeal dysphagia. 

The risk of dysphagia is increased in persons who are immunocompromised like HIV patients because they can get esophageal candidiasis which causes dysphagia. Dysphagia is also common in old age because of the wear and tear of the esophagus. 


Dysphagia is difficulty in swallowing which can be accompanied by pain when swallowing, heartburn, and hoarseness of voice. There are two types of dysphagia. Esophageal dysphagia is caused by tumors of the esophagus, achalasia, and GERD while oropharyngeal dysphagia is caused by neurological problems like Parkinsonism and stroke. You should seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.

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