Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing. Odynophagia means painful swallowing. Sometimes it is not easy for individuals to distinguish between these two problems. For example, food that sticks in the esophagus (swallowing tube) can be painful. Is this dysphagia or odynophagia or both? Technically it is dysphagia, but individuals may describe it as painful swallowing (odynophagia). Nevertheless, it is important to attempt to distinguish between the two because the causes of each may be quite different. When dysphagia is mild, it may cause an individual only to stop eating for a minute or less and drink a few sips of water. When it is severe, however, it can prevent an individual from eating and taking in enough calories for adequate nutrition and to maintain weight.
Some conditions associated with dysphagia affect the area of the lower throat, primarily conditions in which there are abnormalities of nerves or muscles that control the function of the throat. This area also is the area from which the trachea, the main airway leading to the lungs, begins. As a result, abnormalities with the function of the nerves and muscles of this area can lead to discoordination and food may be more easily aspirated into the lungs, potentially leading to bacterial infection and a form of pneumonia known as aspiration pneumonia. The same complication in the lungs can occur when food sticks in the esophagus further down and remains there until a person sleeps. At night, food can regurgitate from the esophagus and into the throat, and then the lungs, because in the lying position gravity does not prevent the food from coming up, and swallowing, which can keep food in the esophagus.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/8/2014