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Dysphagia (Swallowing Problems) (cont.)

Dysphagia Diagnosis

The evaluation of dysphagia begins with a complete medical history and physical examination. When taking the medical history, physician will ask questions regarding the duration, onset, and severity of symptoms as well as the presence of associated symptoms or chronic medical conditions that can help determine the cause of the dysphagia.

Some specific diagnostic tests frequently are performed to evaluate the esophagus and its function:

  • An esophagram or barium swallow is an X-ray imaging test used to visualize the structures of the esophagus. The patient swallows liquid barium while X-ray images are obtained. The barium fills and then coats the lining of the esophagus so that it can diagnose anatomical abnormalities such as tumors. It also allows the radiologist to evaluate the movement of food and liquid through the esophagus and to diagnose functional abnormalities such as achalasia.
  • Videofluoroscopy or videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) is an alternative test to the barium swallow that uses video X-ray images of the swallowing process. It is better able to evaluate the more subtle muscular abnormalities that can affect swallowing than the barium swallow.
  • Endoscopy may be carried out to visualize the lining of the esophagus and stomach, if necessary.
  • Esophageal manometry (motility) studies can measure the pressure generated by the musclular contractions in the esophagus using a pressure-sensitive, thin tube that is passed into the esophagus through the nose. This test can determine if the muscles of the esophagus are working properly.
  • Esophageal pH (acid) studies may be performed in patients with suspected acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD). For the pH study, a thin catheter that records pH (acidity) is inserted into the esophagus through the nose. This allows acid reflux to be measured over a prolonged period of time. Similar measurements can be made without a catheter by attaching a small capsule to the esophageal wall that measures acidity and wirelessly transmits the measurements to a recorder carried at the waist.
  • A fiberoptic endoscopic examination of swallowing (FEES) or transnasal laryngoscopy is another test that may be used. In this study, a laryngoscope is inserted through the nose to visually evaluate the swallowing process in the pharynx.

Since dysphagia can be caused by a multitude of different medical conditions, further diagnostic testing will depend upon the patient's medical history and the information derived from the physical examination and from any tests that have been done to evaluate swallowing.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/8/2014

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