Dysphagia is a condition in which a patient has difficulty swallowing. In some cases, dysphagia can be painful, and swallowing may be impossible.

While occasional difficulty swallowing associated with eating too fast or not chewing food well enough is generally not cause for concern, persistent dysphagia may indicate a serious medical condition requiring treatment.

What are dysphagia symptoms?

  • Painful swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Sensation of food stuck in throat, chest, or behind breastbone
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Regurgitation (food coming back up, reaching mouth)
  • Reflux (food or stomach acid coming back up into throat)
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing

What are complications of trouble swallowing?

  • Malnutrition, weight loss, and dehydration: Due to inability to take  in adequate nourishment and fluids
  • Aspiration pneumonia: Pneumonia caused when food or liquid enters the airway and introduces bacteria to the lungs when you try to swallow
  • Choking: When food becomes impacted, choking can occur. If food completely blocks the airway, and no one intervenes with a successful Heimlich maneuver, death can occur.

How is dysphagia treated?

Although swallowing difficulties can't be prevented, you can reduce your risk of occasional difficulty swallowing by eating slowly and chewing your food well. Early detection and effective treatment of GERD can lower your risk of developing dysphagia associated with an esophageal stricture.

Because there are a variety of possible causes for difficulty swallowing, we recommend you see your doctor if you regularly have difficulty swallowing or if weight loss, regurgitation, or vomiting accompanies your dysphagia. If an obstruction interferes with breathing, call for emergency help immediately. If you're unable to swallow because you feel that the food is stuck in your throat or chest, go to the nearest emergency department.

If you have concerns about dysphagia, request an appointment at San Bernardino Gastroenterology Associates.