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.