What is Dysphagia and How is it Treated?

Dealing with the aggravation and pain of a burst appendix or a broken bone is not easy, but at least with these types of conditions, there is an end in sight. As soon as the tummy or the bone has healed, you are generally able to start living your life to the full again. Unfortunately, there are lots of conditions out there that prevent you from living a normal life, such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and heart failure. At present, there is no cure for any of these conditions, and they usually last a lifetime.

Another chronic condition that many people have not heard about is dysphagia. Like heart disease, osteoporosis, and other chronic conditions, dysphagia lasts a lifetime and can have a huge impact on a person’s life. But what is it? Keep reading below to find out all about dysphagia, what it is, what the symptoms of dysphagia are, and how it is treated:

What is Dysphagia?

Most of us have heard of dysphagia before, but many of us do not know what this condition is. Dysphagia describes a difficulty in swallowing. A person with dysphagia has to work much more than normal to move liquids and food from the mouth to the stomach.

What Causes Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is usually caused by muscle or nerve problems. Some of the possible causes of dysphagia include:

  • Stroke – when blood flow is reduced, brain cells die due to a lack of oxygen. If the brain cells that control swallowing are damaged, it can cause dysphagia.
  • Multiple sclerosis – the immune system attacks the central nervous system, destroying myelin, which usually protects the nerves.
  • Radiation – lots of patients who have received radiotherapy to the head and neck experience dysphagia.

… many more! This condition can be extremely painful and is more likely to occur in young children and babies or older adults.

What Are the Symptoms of Dysphagia?

There are lots of symptoms linked with dysphagia. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Hoarseness
  • Choking when eating
  • Drooling
  • Gagging or coughing when swallowing
  • Stomach acid or food backing up in the throat
  • Feeling of food being stuck
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Bringing food back up
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Inability to control saliva in the mouth

How is Dysphagia Treated?

Because there are lots of reasons why dysphagia can occur, treatment depends on the underlying cause of the condition. However, here are some of the different treatment options currently available:

  • Swallowing therapy – a speech and language therapist will teach the patient new ways of swallowing. They will also learn new exercises that will improve the muscles in the throat.
  • Diet – some liquids and foods are easier to swallow than others. Patients will be encouraged to eat easier-to-swallow foods instead of more difficult-to-swallow foods. However, the patient must maintain a well-balanced diet. The good news for people suffering from this condition is that they can use products like SimplyThick which can be added to foods to make them more palatable.
  • Feeding through a tube – if the patient is unable to swallow any food or liquid, they may have to be fed through a tube. While this is not the most pleasant option, it will keep them alive.
  • Dilation – if the esophagus is restricted, it may need be to be widened. This is done by inserting a small tube into the windpipe and then inflating it.
  • Botox – if the muscles of the esophagus have become stiff, then Botox can be used.

Thousands of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with dysphagia each year. While not all cases of dysphagia are chronic, many of them are, meaning that people will have to live with this terrible condition for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, there are some treatment options available to help them live a more normal life. However, we hope that in the future, more treatment options or cures are found for this life-altering diagnosis.

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