The term dysphagia means difficulty in swallowing; difficulty eating and swallowing. There are several different types of dysphagia and you can have problems swallowing for many different reasons.
About 6% of the adult population is estimated to have difficulty swallowing. Up to 25% of all children have some type of eating difficulty during their upbringing. Here you can read more about dysphagia, eg symptoms, treatment and causes.
Symptoms of dysphagia
Some typical ways dysphagia shows up are:
- Difficult to swallow food and drink
- Difficult to process food and drink in mouth
- Feeling that the food is stuck
- Cough during or after meals
Dysphagia can make it difficult to get all the nutrition you need to feel good. Eating and drinking can take a long time. By extension, the appetite may be impaired, leading to weight loss and not meeting one’s need for energy.
The extent and effect of the inconvenience can vary greatly. For some, they may not be perceived as a major obstacle, while it can have a profound effect on everyday life and the general condition of others.
Different types of dysphagia
Because dysphagia can occur in different parts of the swallow, the problems can be divided into three different types:
- Oral dysphagia: difficulties in handling food and drink from chewing to swallowing
- Pharyngeal dysphagia: the food does not go beyond the lower part of the throat, does not follow down when swallowing
- Esophageal dysphagia: food is not transported properly from the lower part of the pharynx to the stomach
About swallowing and esophagus
Just like the three different types of dysphagia, the pharynx is usually divided into the three phases oral, pharyngeal and esophageal. In the first phase, the oral, the food is processed together with saliva in the mouth. It then forms bolus (a bulky mass of chewed food and saliva) which is then transported towards the throat.
When reaching the pharyngeal phase, the bolus reaches the esophagus through the pharynx. In this phase, the larynx is closed as a result of a reflex, which means that the food can now only move in the direction of the stomach.
The bolus mass then proceeds to the stomach during the esophageal phase. You can control the oral phase. The other two phases are involuntary once cooled. The swallowing process is an interaction that involves many different functions in the body. When the process works optimally, it takes between one and one and a half seconds for food and drink to move from the oral cavity to the pharynx and esophagus.
Swallowing difficulties occur many times as part of chronic diseases. Dysphagia, for example, may be part of the symptoms related to stroke and certain cancers. Infections, malformations, medications and physical trauma can also make it difficult to swallow. Dysphagia is much more common in people over the age of 85. This is due to the fact that they are more often affected by diseases that lead to swallowing difficulties and that the esophagus is worn over time.
Treatment of dysphagia
Dysphagia cannot always be cured, but there are several ways to treat the problems. Here you can read about some of the most common.
In some cases, swallowing ability can be improved through an oral motor training program. This is designed by a speech therapist. The speech therapist can map the swallowing function of a patient and teach methods that make it easier to swallow.
Swallowing difficulties can be reduced by adjusting the diet. Some foods and beverages are easier to handle when you have a certain type of dysphagia. Sometimes you may also need to enrich what you eat to avoid nutritional deficiencies due to food that you cannot swallow. A dietitian can help to design a good diet program when suffering from swallowing difficulties.
Nasogastric probe and gastrostomy
If you cannot meet your nutritional needs through what you eat and drink, you need to find another solution. When the dietary adjustment and the logopedic treatment are not enough, a nasogastric probe can be tried. A nasogastric probe nourishes through a thin silicone tube from the nose to the stomach.
For more prolonged swallowing difficulties, a gastrostomy may be needed. A gastrostomy means that you do a minor procedure where you create a channel into the stomach. The probe then connects a probe or catheter directly into the stomach so that food can be fed directly.
Seek care in case of swallowing difficulties
If one of several symptoms of dysphagia occurs, you should seek medical attention from a doctor. When seeking treatment for dysphagia, one usually meets with a speech therapist and/or an ear-nose throat doctor. Speech therapists often collaborate with others, such as occupational therapists, dietitians and physiotherapists, to provide as good support as possible to those with difficulty swallowing.