Definition and Facts

People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing and may even experience pain while swallowing (odynophagia). It can happen at any age but is more common in older adults. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble safely swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva. When that happens, eating becomes a challenge. Often, dysphagia makes it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body and can lead to additional serious medical problems.


  • coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • bringing food back up when eating or drinking
  • a feeling that food is stuck in your throat or chest
  • a gurly, wet-sounding voice when eating or drinking
  • may also drool and have problems chewing your food


  • Neurological disorders such as diseases of the nervous system, like cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease, stroke or head injury, dementia, etc.
  • persistent acid reflux causing narrowing of the esophagus or structures
  • inflammatory conditions, such as eosinophilic esophagitis.
  • Disorders of the muscles of the esophagus such as ineffective esophageal motility or acacia
  • In addition, cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus may cause swallowing problems. Sometimes the treatment for these types of cancers can cause dysphagia. An infection or irritation can cause narrowing of the esophagus.


  • You may be referred to a swallowing therapy to improve muscle coordination and swallowing function
  • Dietary modifications
  • Medications
  • Dilation, for individuals with esophageal strictures, this may be performed to widen the esophagus and improve swallowing
  • Surgery
  • Nutritional support for severe cases wherein adequate nutrition cannot be maintained orally
The specific treatment will depend on the underlying cause of dysphagia and the individual’s overall health and preferences.

Kumkum Patel MD, MPH

Board-certified Gastroenterologist.
IBS and Motility Specialist

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