Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Difficulty Swallowing Overview

What is difficulty swallowing?
A person with dysphagia has difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia may range from mild discomfort during swallowing, to a complete inability to swallow. Dysphagia can be caused by irritation of the esophagus, or weakness in the muscles of the esophagus. Dysphagia is more common in people over 50. The most common cause is gastroesophageal reflux disease. Less common causes include stroke, esophageal cancer, and other neurological diseases.

What are the symptoms of difficulty swallowing?
Symptoms that occur with difficulty swallowing include sore throat, cough, heartburn, excessive drooling, difficulty breathing, hoarse voice, difficulty speaking, weight loss, and headache. Additional symptoms that may occur with difficulty swallowing due to stroke include arm or leg weakness or numbness, facial weakness, difficulty walking, difficulty speaking, confusion, and changes in vision.

How does the doctor treat difficulty swallowing?
Treatment for difficulty swallowing may include antacids, acid blocker medications, and endoscopy for dysphagia. Surgery may be an option for some patients.

Continue to Difficulty Swallowing Incidence

Last Updated: Feb 8, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Difficulty Swallowing References
  1. Achem SR, Devault KR. Dysphagia in aging. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2005 May-Jun;39(5):357-71. [15815202]
  2. Cook IJ, Kahrilas PJ. AGA technical review on management of oropharyngeal dysphagia. Gastroenterology. 1999 Feb;116(2):455-78. [9922328]
  3. Leslie P, Drinnan MJ, Ford GA, Wilson JA. Swallow respiratory patterns and aging: presbyphagia or dysphagia? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2005 Mar;60(3):391-5. [15860480]
  4. Rubenstein JH, Inadomi JM. Dysphagia drives doctors to diagnose a disease: pitfalls in interpreting observational studies. Gastrointest Endosc. 2005 Jun;61(7):809-11. [15933680]
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