How To Manage Dysphagia: An Overview

We’ve all occasionally had that feeling of food getting stuck in the throat or going down the wrong way. For people with Dysphagia, however, those are constant risks every time they eat. It can be painful and distressing to be unable to take in your favorite foods, but the good news is that there are several forms of treatment for Dysphagia to address that. Here, we offer a brief guide on how to manage Dysphagia to answer all your questions.

Understanding Dysphagia

Dysphagia essentially refers to difficulty swallowing food and beverages. It can range from simply taking more time to transfer food from the mouth to the stomach, to an inability to swallow altogether. While typically commoner in older adults, it can happen at any age depending on what other medical conditions the patient has. Treatment for Dysphagia ranges from complete recovery to management of symptoms.

Symptoms of Dysphagia

Dysphagia often arises as a result of pre-existing conditions, such as Cerebral Palsy or Motor Neuron Disease, which impair the functioning of the muscles in the mouth, throat, and tongue. It can also be caused by obstructions such as oesophageal tumors, or as a side effect of radiation treatment. Signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

  • An inability to swallow food
  • Feeling like food is stuck in the throat
  • Pain during swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Food regurgitation
  • Hoarseness
  • Acid reflux
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn

Diagnosing Dysphagia

If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms above, it is essential to get a check-up immediately. The doctor will ask for details of your swallowing problem and of your medical history and any medications you currently take. Among the standard tests used to diagnose Dysphagia are:

  • Imaging tests like a CT scan or an MRI
  • X-ray of the esophagus after swallowing a contrast material like a barium solution
  • An endoscopy to visually examine the esophagus with the help of an endoscope
  • A manometry to test muscle contractions in the esophagus as the patient tries to swallow
  • A dynamic swallowing test that evaluates muscle contractions in the mouth and throat as the patient swallows different types of barium-coated foods

Treatment for Dysphagia

The main goals of treatment for Dysphagia involve ensuring sufficient nutritional intake for the patient while protecting the airway. A speech and swallowing therapist can provide tailored guidance on how to manage Dysphagia through techniques like:

  • New swallowing techniques to allow for safe food intake
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, tongue, jaw, and throat
  • Proper posture, including sitting straight up, facing forward, and keeping the neck upright through support if necessary
  • Chewing techniques to get the food ready for safe swallowing
  • A special diet including textures, temperatures, and portions of food and drink that the patient can swallow easily
  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Adding thickeners to thin liquids to make them easier to swallow

In certain cases, treatment for dysphagia may entail the use of aids, such as:

  • Inserting a stent to open up a narrowed or blocked esophagus
  • An oral suction unit to clear the mouth of accumulated food particles and saliva
  • A valved straw that enables sucking liquids by retaining them near the top of the straw
  • Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), involving a tube inserted directly into the stomach for nutritional intake
  • Surgery to clear the esophagus of any tumors or other blockages

In conclusion, Dysphagia can cause discomfort and hinder your ability to enjoy your meals. However, proper treatment for dysphagia can protect you from the potential dangers while giving you new ways to taste and enjoy food.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.