Offering diagnosis and treatment of communication, hearing, and swallowing disorders
Published: Mar. 17, 2010
Updated: Nov. 3, 2011
Normal swallowing is the complex act of moving food, drink, or saliva from the mouth to the stomach. Normal swallows should be safe, efficient, and usually satisfying. Swallowing can be divided into three stages: oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal.
The parts of the mouth, including the tongue, teeth, and lips work together to chew and mix food or drink with saliva. This mixture creates a soft ball of food called a bolus. The tongue, cheeks, and lips also work together to push the bolus to the back of the throat.
The bolus is moved through the throat (pharynx). At the same time, the entrance to the airway closes during swallowing, preventing the entrance of material (food, liquid, or saliva) into the airway and lungs. The bolus is then directed into the top part of the food tube (esophagus).
The bolus moves through the esophagus into the stomach.
Dysphagia means swallowing problem. Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem in any stage of moving food, liquid, or saliva from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia can make swallowing unsafe, may be painful, and can put a person at risk for malnutrition, dehydration, fatal choking episodes, and pneumonia.
Dysphagia can also make swallowing inefficient, requiring extra time to eat. It can make eating unpleasant because of the fear of choking or of growing tired of dietary restrictions.
Oral symptoms include:
Pharyngeal symptoms include:
Esophageal symptoms include:
There are many different causes of dysphagia. Congenital causes of dysphagia refer to swallowing problems that begin at birth. For example, cleft lip and palate occur at birth and can cause problems with feeding and swallowing.
Another cause of dysphagia can be structural problems or changes to the form of the mouth, throat, or esophagus. If a person has tongue cancer and part of the tongue is removed surgically to treat the cancer, this can cause dysphagia.
Finally, neurological damage can cause dysphagia. This includes any disease or disorder that causes the muscles or nerves that control swallowing to be weak, slow, uncoordinated, or have changed sensation. A person who had a stroke may have imparied sensation to their mouth and throat, have weakness on one side of the mouth and throat, and have discoordinated swallow movements.
Conditions that frequently result in dysphagia include: