Those who have dysphagia have difficulty swallowing. Swallowing difficulties may range from problems in swallowing of food, liquid or saliva, to a state where swallowing itself is painful, and also the state of total inability to swallow. The result is that eating or drinking sufficiently to maintain healthy levels is quite the challenge.
Oropharyngeal (also called high) dysphagia and oesophageal (also called low) dysphagia are the two kinds of this condition. When swallowing problems occur in the mouth or throat it is referred to as high dysphasia. Stroke victims frequently have high dysphagia. When the problem manifests in the oesophagus, it is referred to as low dysphasia. This is sometimes caused by infections or cancer surgery.
Dysphasia occurs for a variety of reasons, with stroke being one of the most common. The condition can manifest itself when any of the muscles, nerves or passageways involved in the complex process of swallowing are not functioning correctly. For instance, stroke victims may experience dysphagia due to a decrease in coordination of the muscles of the mouth and throat. Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, motor neuron disease and multiple sclerosis are some additional neurological causes.
If the throat or oesophagus narrows or becomes obstructed, the condition can arise. This can be caused by cancer of the mouth or lung, radiotherapy, a cleft lip and palate, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), or infections. Dysphagia can also be caused by certain health conditions that affect the muscles that push food down to the stomach. Examples of these conditions are achalasia (the muscles tighten and do not allow food to path through to the stomach) or scleroderma (healthy tissue is attacked by the immune system and the muscles in the throat stiffen).
The condition may develop as a result of aging, as the muscles of the mouth and throat that are involved in swallowing weaken. Elderly people are generally found to be more prone to dysphagia; nevertheless, this form of age-related dysphagia can be easily treated.
In order to devise an effective plan of treatment, the cause of the problem must be established. Stroke dysphagia is the number one cause. The problem can be made easier by taking liquid medicines or liquefying their food after a stroke. Swallowing ability may be enhanced with exercises, but a feeding tube may be necessary in persistent cases.
If dysphasia is so severe that it is impossible for the patient to swallow liquid foods or medications, then it may be necessary to insert a temporary or permanent feeding tube. However, this may be considered the last alternative in case all other efforts at treatment fail. Reducing the size of bites of food, chewing more effectively, adding liquid, or liquefying food are all ways to make swallowing easier before this state is reached. The problem can be pacified if the patient remains calm as becoming stressed can intensify the difficulty.
An acute pain during swallowing as well as the total inability to swallow constitute the symptoms of dysphagia. Sometimes people with this problem regurgitate food, cough or choke while attempting to swallow, or feel as if food is stuck in their throat or chest. An unexplained loss of weight as well as lung infections are some other complications.
Dysphagia can result in difficulties and related sicknesses. For instance, people who have high dysphasia are prone to developing aspiration pneumonia, a lung infection that occurs when a bit of food lodges in the lungs. This occurs when the damaged muscles do not seal the larynx during the process of swallowing, leaving the path to the lungs open. Another problem occurs when the wall of the oesophagus weakens, causing a pocket to form outside the oesophagus. Here it is possible for some swallowed food to become caught, and when the patient is sleeping or lying down, the food is returned to the throat. Another indication is that of an acute loss of weight that is, at times, caused due to a severely constricted oesophagus. The oesophagus, because it is too narrow, traps food and obstructs the pathway from even liquid finding its way into the stomach.
A number of treatments exist for dysphasia, including muscle exercises, modification of eating habits, and surgery. It is possible to manage and treat the condition without surgery in many cases in which a person suffers from dysphasia and/or has had a stroke. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that in a number of cases of stroke and dysphagia, muscular exercising has contributed to the strengthening and improvement of coordination for swallowing.
Other options are available if swallowing pills is difficult. The first thing to do is to find out if your drug comes in a different form, such as a liquid, a dispersible, buccal or an oro-dispersible tablet. Some medications may only be available with a prescription, as an over the counter version has not been approved. However, you may get all the information that you need by taking the advice of a pharmacist.