Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
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, but when it is severe it can prevent an individual from
eating and taking in enough calories for adequate nutrition, and to maintain
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, in passing 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.
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