What is dysphagia?

Difficult swallowing, known in medical circles as dysphagia, is difficulty swallowing or deglutition of food, and tends to occur mostly in elderly patients. In many cases it is a consequence of cerebrovascular accidents, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or tracheotomies, ailments that affect the tongue, throat muscles and esophagus.

With respect to its treatment, it is necessary to follow a series of guidelines to prevent food from getting stuck: exercises to strengthen the jaw muscles, sitting upright, and allowing three hours after dinner before going to bed, eating food in small pieces and accompanying it with plenty of liquid, and devoting considerable time to meals to chew and swallow slowly.

What are the symptoms of dysphagia?

Not all people with this disorder have symptoms, for those who do, they may experience:

  • Regurgitation of undigested food.
  • Chest pains
  • Coughing fits
  • Heartburn
  • Excess saliva and drooling
  • Gradual weight loss

The onset of aclasia can occur at any time in your life and if left untreated can increase the likelihood of esophageal cancer developing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see the appropriate specialist so that a diagnosis can be made and treatment can be established.

Although there is no current cure for achalasia, there are measures to alleviate the symptoms.

What causes dysphagia?

The cause of aclasia is largely unknown, however, it is believed to occur when the nerves in the esophagus become damaged and stop functioning properly, causing the ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus to stop working. The cause of this nerve damage is unknown, but it could be related to infection or possibly autoimmune conditions. There is also a possibility that aclasia may be hereditary.

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How is dysphagia diagnosed?

Diagnosing aclasia can be difficult because it shares symptoms with other digestive disorders. If your specialist suspects that you have aclasia, the following tests are likely to be performed:

  • Manometry: a small tube is inserted through your nose or mouth into your esophagus to measure the contractions of the muscle when you swallow and to detect any pressure buildup.
  • Endoscopy: an endoscopy is passed down the throat in order to examine the esophageal lining and identify any obstruction that may be present.
  • X-rays: the patient swallows a liquid containing barium and then x-rays are taken. This procedure highlights the time it takes for the liquid to reach the stomach.

What is the treatment for dysphagia?

Although there is no current cure for achalasia, there are measures to relieve symptoms. The key to successful treatment is to make it easier for the patient to swallow when eating or drinking. Some medications are designed to relax the esophageal muscles, making swallowing easier, however, the effects are only temporary.

Other treatment options include:

  • Botox injections: injected into the ring of muscle that allows food to enter the stomach as Botox causes it to relax.
  • Surgery: through keyhole surgery (laparoscopy), the muscle ring is cut and can make it easier to swallow.
  • Muscle dilation: a balloon is passed down the esophagus to help stretch the ring of muscle that allows food to enter the stomach, making swallowing easier and less painful.