What you need to know about swallowing problems

Eating and drinking are some of the most basic human functions needed for survival. We often take these abilities for granted or don’t think about them at all. However, for people with swallowing problems, eating and drinking are challenges that make living a normal life nearly impossible. The ability to swallow is not a passive function that works simply by the act of chewing and gravity’s downward pull. The human esophagus is a complex organ that relies on many muscles and nerves. The inability to swallow, known as dysphagia, can occur at any stage of the swallowing process.

Causes of dysphagia

Dysphagia can occur for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:

  • Stroke or brain or spinal cord injury
  • Neurological problems such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s disease
  • Esophageal spasms
  • Inflammation of the esophagus
  • Esophageal tumors
  • Scleroderma

Types of dysphagia

There are three types of dysphagia:

  • Oral dysphagia is a problem with the mouth, such as a weakened tongue caused by a stroke. It is characterized by difficulty chewing or moving food from the mouth to the esophagus.
  • The first phase of swallowing involves moving food or liquid from the mouth to the throat. If there is difficulty during this phase, a person may be experiencing oropharyngeal dysphagia and may find it hard to start a swallow. They may cough or choke during meals. This type of dysphagia is often caused by neurological problems that affect the nerves such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Esophageal dysphagia occurs once food or liquid gets to the esophagus and is taken by a muscular wave toward the entrance of the stomach. With esophageal dysphasia, food or liquid may feel like it stops or drains slowly from the esophagus. This sensation may occur because something is keeping it from entering the stomach such as a blockage or muscle that is squeezes too tightly or at the wrong time. Also, the waves of the esophagus that push the swallowed food into the stomach might not be strong enough or coordinated enough to consistently clear the esophagus of swallowed food and liquid.

Symptoms of dysphagia

  • Trouble getting food or liquids to go down on the first try
  • Gagging, choking, or coughing when swallowing
  • Food or liquids come back up through the mouth, nose, or throat after swallowing
  • The sensation that food is stuck in the throat
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or heartburn
  • Weight loss or dehydration due to not getting enough food or liquids

Rehabilitation can help

After being diagnosed with dysphagia, a doctor may treat the condition with a number of options including medication and surgery. Part of the recommended treatment may include rehabilitation with a trained therapist. The rehabilitation will focus on developing treatment interventions that will improve the safety and efficiency of swallowing while determining the best feeding methods and techniques. Ultimately, therapy will support personalized nutrition and hydration goals based on dietary preferences and daily living activities.


If you have swallowing problems and would like the help of qualified therapists and a supportive environment that delivers results, contact Rehab First today at www.rehab-first.com.

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