Difficulty with swallowing is the feeling that food or liquid is stuck in the throat or at any point before the food enters the stomach. This problem is also called dysphagia.
Dysphagia; Impaired swallowing; Choking - food; Globus sensation
The process of swallowing involves several steps. These include
There are many nerves that help the muscles of the mouth, throat, and esophagus work together. Much of swallowing occurs without you being aware of what you are doing.
A brain or nerve disorder can alter the workings of the muscles of the mouth and throat.
Swallowing is a complex act. Many nerves work in a fine balance to control how the muscles of the mouth, throat, and esophagus work together.
A brain or nerve disorder can alter this fine balance in the muscles of the mouth and throat.
Stress or anxiety may cause some people to feel tightness in the throat, or feel as if something is stuck in the throat. This sensation is unrelated to eating and is called globus hystericus.
Problems that involve the esophagus often cause swallowing problems. These may include:
Chest pain, the feeling of food stuck in the throat, or heaviness or pressure in the neck or upper or lower chest may be present.
Other symptoms may include:
You may have problems swallowing with any eating or drinking, or only with certain types of foods or liquids. Difficulty eating very hot or cold foods, dry crackers or bread, meat, or chicken may be an early sign of swallowing problems.
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will order tests to look for:
A test called upper endoscopy (EGD) is often done.
Other tests may include:
You may also need to have blood tests to look for disorders that could cause swallowing problems.
The treatment for your swallowing problem depends on the cause.
It is important to learn how to eat and drink safely. Incorrect swallowing may lead to choking or breathing food or liquid into your main airway. This can lead to pneumonia.
Medicines that may be used depend on the cause, and may include:
Procedures and surgeries that may be used include:
If your symptoms are severe and you are unable to eat and drink enough, or you have problems choking or pneumonia, you may need a feeding tube.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if swallowing problems do not improve after a few days, or they come and go.
Call your provider right away if:
Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 138.
Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 43.
Review Date: 8/14/2015
Reviewed By: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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