A Medical Look at Dysphagia /
By Valeri Thelen, Staff Writer
The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research
estimates that more than 60,000 Americans die from
complications associated with swallowing
difficulties each year—more than liver and kidney
disease, as well as HIV/ AIDS combined.
Swallowing difficulties are a serious problem for
many loved ones and a stress factor for caregivers
nationwide. There are four main families of
dysphagia, which have many of the same symptoms, but
different causes and treatments.
First, preparatory dysphagia is the actual loss
of smell or taste sensation and saliva. It also
includes weak chewing muscles as well as painful
gums and cheeks.
Second, oral dysphagia is caused when part of the
tongue is missing and there is then impaired tongue
control and sensory loss.
Esophageal dysphagia is the sensation of food
sticking in the base of a loved one’s throat or
chest. There are quite a few causes of this
dysphagia, ranging from narrowing or weakening of
the esophagus muscles to food or other objects
Oropharyngeal dysphagia relates to nerves and
weakened throat muscles, making it difficult to move
food from the mouth to the throat and esophagus.
This is mainly caused by neurological disorders or
cancer, causing choking, gagging or coughing when a
loved one attempts to swallow.
Regardless of the type, dysphagia can be
debilitating to a loved one’s daily life, but is
also treatable. Each diagnosis and treatment is as
unique as the person suffering from the swallowing
The signs and symptoms that a caregiver should be
aware of if suspecting dysphagia include:
- Pain while swallowing
- Inability to swallow
- Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or
chest, or behind breastbone
- Increased drooling
- Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
- Frequent heartburn
- Food or stomach acid backing up into a loved one’s
- Unexpected weight loss
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing