Home > Health Library > Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)
swallowing is also called dysphagia. It is usually a sign of a problem with
your throat or
esophagus—the muscular tube that moves food and
liquids from the back of your mouth to your stomach. Although dysphagia can
happen to anyone, it is most common in older adults, babies, and
people who have problems of the brain or nervous system.
many different problems that can prevent the throat or esophagus from working
properly. Some of these are minor, and others are more serious. If you have a
hard time swallowing once or twice, you probably do not have a medical problem.
But if you have trouble swallowing on a regular basis, you may have a more
serious problem that needs treatment.
Normally, the muscles in your throat and
esophagus squeeze, or contract, to move food and liquids from your mouth to
your stomach without problems. Sometimes, though, food and liquids have trouble
getting to your stomach. There are two types of problems that can make it hard
for food and liquids to travel down your esophagus:
A dry mouth can make dysphagia worse. This is because you may not have enough saliva to help move food out of your mouth and through your esophagus. A dry mouth can be caused by medicines or another health problem.
Dysphagia can come and go, be mild or severe, or get worse over time. If
you have dysphagia, you may:
If you are having difficulty swallowing, your
doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will
want to know if you have trouble swallowing solids, liquids, or both. He or she will also want to know where you
think foods or liquids are getting stuck, whether and for how long you have had
heartburn, and how long you have had difficulty swallowing. He or she may also check your
reflexes, muscle strength, and speech. Your doctor may then refer you to one of
the following specialists:
To help find the cause of your dysphagia, you may need one
or more tests, including:
treatment will depend on what is causing your dysphagia. Treatment for
In rare cases, a person who has severe dysphagia may need a
feeding tube because he or she is not able to get enough food and
Other Works Consulted
Chaudhury A, Mashimo H (2012). Orpharyngeal and esophageal motility disorders. In NJ Greenberger et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Endoscopy, 2nd ed., pp. 164–182. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hirano I, Kahrilas PJ (2015). Dysphagia. In DL Kasper et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th ed., vol. 1, pp. 254–258. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Krishnan K, Pandolfino E (2015). Dysphagia and esophageal obstruction. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 548–552. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Mendelson MH (2011). Esophageal emergencies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and swallowed foreign bodies. In JE Tintinalli et al., eds., Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7th ed., pp. 548–552. New York: McGraw-Hill.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerPeter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
Current as ofDecember 9, 2015
Current as of:
December 9, 2015
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Peter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
I Want To...
Join Our Social Network