A number of conditions can cause esophageal dysphagia, such as:
- Achalasia—affects the muscles at the bottom of the esophagus
- Scleroderma—causes thickening and stiffening of tissues, joints, and organs; can lead to problems with the esophageal muscles
- Esophageal stricture or esophageal ring—causes the esophagus to become more narrow
- Esophageal tumors
- Infectious esophagitis
- Caustic esophagitis
- Foreign bodies
- Eosinophilic esophagitis
Many conditions and factors may increase your risk of esophageal dysphagia, like:
- Increased age
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Radiation therapy
- Respiratory or cardiovascular disorder such as stroke
- Surgery such as fundoplication
- Being born prematurely
- Taking certain medications that may affect how the esophagus works
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing solids, liquids, or both
- A sensation of food being stuck in the esophagus
- Pain when swallowing
- Heartburn, regurgitation
- Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
- Wheezing, hoarse voice
- Weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to problems with eating and drinking
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests will be done to assess your swallowing function. These may include:
- Swallowing test to observe what happens when you swallow
- Videofluorographic swallowing study (VFSS)
Your throat may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
- Barium swallow
Your esophageal muscles may be tested. This can be done with an esophageal manometry test.
Treatment depends on the cause, but may include:
- Esophageal dilation—Placing a tube-shaped device into the esophagus to widen the narrow part.
- Surgery—to prevent reflux or remove blockage
- Dietary changes—You may need to avoid eating foods that cause problems, like meat. Or you may need to eat only pureed food. In severe cases, a feeding tube may be needed to provide nutrition.
- Therapy to improve swallowing—such as learning ways to prevent choking while eating.
- Medications—to treat any underlying problem, relax esophageal muscles, or reduce acid
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Dysphagia, Esophageal; Difficulty Swallowing [Esophagus])
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