Occasional difficulty in swallowing can occur when we eat too quickly or don’t chew our food properly.  However, persistent or recurrent swallowing difficulty may indicate a serious condition.

Difficulty in swallowing can occur at any age, but is more common in older adults.  A variety of conditions can cause swallowing problems and can be subdivided into oesophageal and oropharyngeal problems.

  • Achalasia – this occurs when the lower oesophageal sphincter doesn’t relax properly allowing food to enter the stomach.
  • Stricture – narrowing of the oesophagus causes solid food to get caught.  This may be the result of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or tumours.
  • Foreign bodies – poorly chewed food can become lodged in the oesophagus, especially in older adults.
  • Aging – as we get older the strength and efficacy of the peristaltic waves which push food into the stomach decrease.
  • Scleroderma – this connective tissue disease is characterised by the development of scar-like tissue.
  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia – various neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis can adversely impact on the co-ordination and strength of throat muscles making it difficult to swallow.  An abnormal “out-pouching” of the pharynx (pharyngeal pouch) can also interfere with swallowing.  Treatment will depend upon cause and diagnose may require special investigations such as barium swallow studies.