Dysphagia is a word that sounds rather complicated; however, the explanation is fairly simple. Dysphagia is the medical terminology for difficulty swallowing, and in some cases people also experience pain when swallowing. In extreme cases, people may reach the point where they cannot swallow anything at all, which makes it nearly impossible for them to consume any type of nourishment that is necessary for their bodies.
The Complicated Process of Swallowing
Though most of us take the ability to swallow foods and beverages for granted, the fact is that there are more than 50 muscles involved in the process. The entire act of swallowing occurs in three steps, or stages, that help our bodies to digest food.
During the first stage of this process our tongues help us move food around so we can chew it. Chewing our food properly is very important because it not only helps us to be able to swallow our food safely, it mixes the food with saliva, which also aids in the actual swallowing process.
The second stage occurs when the food or beverages we are consuming are pushed to the back of the mouth. At this point, a swallowing reflex is triggered that allows the food to pass through the pharynx. The pharynx is the canal connecting the mouth and the esophagus. While this is happening, the larynx closes off and our breathing briefly stops so that food and beverages cannot get into our lungs.
In stage three, food or beverages enter the esophagus and are carried to the stomach in a remarkably short amount of time (usually about three seconds).
Causes of Dysphagia
There are a number of conditions that can lead to the development of this disorder. Dysphagia can occur when a person develops a problem with any one aspect of the swallowing process. Cheek or tongue muscles that have become weak can lead to difficulty swallowing, as can certain nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy.
People who have suffered a stroke or certain types of head or chest injuries may also be affected by this condition. In some instances, dysphagia may also develop in people who suffer from cancer of the neck, head, or esophagus.
Depending on the severity of the dysphagia, there are several different treatment options that may be beneficial for patients. This disorder may be treated by either a doctor or a speech-language pathologist, depending on exactly what is causing the swallowing problem. After the cause of dysphagia has been determined, it is possible that it can then be treated through a course of therapy, medication, or surgery.
Treatment options may include teaching the person how to exercise their facial muscles or how to eat in different ways. In some cases, people may simply have to adapt to preparing their foods using certain methods or avoid some foods altogether. Unfortunately, in some situations people may be unable to swallow foods or beverages anymore, which would then require them to make use of feeding tubes in order to obtain the nutrients that their bodies need.