Dysphagia is a medical term for difficult swallowing. The very process of swallowing is quite complex and includes chewing the food and mixing it with saliva, pushing the chewed food into the throat with the assistance of the tongue and finally contraction of the upper pharynx and pushing the food into the lower pharynx and the esophagus. The food eventually reaches the stomach thanks to a peristaltic wave, the specific set of contractions of esophageal muscles.
There are many causes of dysphagia. Esophageal dysphagia, for example, develops due to achalasia, the process of aging, diffuse spasm of the esophagus, esophageal stricture, esophageal tumors and the presence of foreign bodies inside the esophagus. Furthermore, the condition may occur as a consequence of gastroesophageal reflux disease and is also associated with eosinophilic esophagitis, scleroderma and radiation therapy. Oropharyngeal dysphagia results from certain neurological disorders (e.g. Parkinson's disease), neurological damage, pharyngeal diverticula and cancers. And finally, dysphagia in infants and children is generally associated with developmental problems due to premature birth or low birth weight, certain nervous system disorders, cleft palate or cleft lip or it is idiopathic.
Therapy for Dysphagia
Therapy for dysphagia depends on the underlying cause hence it can only start after the actual cause of the problem is identified. One of the several supportive measures for people suffering from dysphagia includes insertion of feeding tubes. The feeding tube passes down the throat (is inserted via the nose or the mouth) and ends in the stomach or the small intestine.
In case the condition develops as a consequence of physical obstruction of the pharynx or the esophagus it generally requires surgery. For example, tumors are most commonly removed surgically although some patients undergo endoscopic tumor removal. Cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, as well as the esophagus are additionally treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the two. In advanced stage of the disease patients may benefit from palliative surgeries.
Strictures as well as Schatzki's rings require endoscopic dilatation. Eosinophilic esophagitis is treated with oral corticosteroids and dietary changes since the condition may occur due to consumption of food that contain specific allergens. Diverticuli of both, the pharynx and esophagus are most commonly treated surgically. Surgery is also indicated in congenital abnormalities.
Neurological disorders that cause swallowing difficulties are treated with specific medications depending on the particular disorder. Once the disease is brought under control dysphagia withdraws. The prognosis depends on the cause of dysphagia, availability of the treatment as well as response to the treatment.