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All About Dysphagia

By: Jo Johnson - Updated: 7 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dysphagia Swallowing Stroke Food Drink

Dysphagia is a medical term given when a person is having difficulty swallowing.It can be a symptom of another medical disorder or may be a problem in it’s own right.It can vary in severity, ranging from the person having to put a little more effort into swallowing or may render a person hardly able to swallow at all.

The difficulty may not just be present when eating, but may also affect the individual when they are swallowing saliva; something that we normally do without much thought.

Is It Dangerous?

Dysphagia may be dangerous for some people. If it continues for long periods or swallowing is affected to a degree where no food or fluid is taken, dehydration can occur. If the dysphagia cannot be successfully treated and nutrition and hydration maintained orally, a permanent feeding tube may need to be inserted, though these may be unsuitable to use long term in some patients.

In some cases, people with dysphagia can try too hard to swallow or do not swallow correctly, and inadvertently force food down the airway which can lead to choking, infections and pneumonia.

What Causes Dysphagia?

The causes of dysphagia are very varied and may range from a decrease in mechanical function due to old age, a consequence of an alternative disorder such as a stroke or other neurological condition, due to a congenital disorder (meaning from birth), result from anxiety or phobia or be caused by an obstruction or foreign body in the oesophagus.

The process of swallowing is more complicated than most people are aware of and being unable to swallow may occur for a number of reasons including:

  • Not having enough saliva to moisten and breakdown food items.
  • The muscles in the mouth and neck may not be functioning as normal.
  • Maybe there is difficulty controlling and moving the tongue.
  • Abnormal anatomy of the oral cavity.
  • The jaws are stiff or misaligned.
  • As a side-effect of certain medications.
  • The natural swallowing reflexes are absent or affected.
  • Treatments For Dysphagia

    There are a number of treatments for this condition, some more severe than others.Often when the problem has been diagnosed and the cause of the difficulty determined, the best course of action may be to modify the type and consistency of the food or fluid taken. This is something that many stroke sufferers have to adapt to and learn how to modify their lifestyle accordingly.

    Food may need softening or purifying and liquids can be thickened using special formulas that change the consistency without altering the taste.

    It can be possible, depending on the cause of the condition to alter how you eat and drink. Sometimes the position you are in can make swallowing harder. Sitting up straight or with support can be helpful, along with learning exercises that target the affected anatomy aiming to strengthen them and improve their tone.If the dysphagia is the result of taking other medications, your drug regime may need altering which is usually quite simple when you speak to your GP.

    For some people, surgery may be the best option though this is not very common. The types of surgery may include dilation of the oesophagus, removal of any growths that may be causing an obstruction and re-fashioning the anatomy if possible.

    Dysphagia is a fairly common but problematic condition and can affect anyone. It can lead to dehydration and malnutrition if it is not identified and treated and is more common in those who have suffered a stroke or have a neurological condition.

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