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Dysphagia (Swallowing Problems) (cont.)

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dysphagia?

Depending upon the cause of the dysphagia, the difficulty swallowing can be mild or severe. Some affected individuals may have trouble swallowing both solids and liquids, while others may experience problems only when attempting to swallow solid foods. Occasionally, there is more trouble with liquid than solid food.

  • If there is aspiration of food (most common with liquids), swallows may induce coughing due to entrance of the liquid into the voice box (larynx) at the top of the trachea or into the lungs.
  • If solid food becomes lodged in the lower throat, it may induce choking and gagging and interfere with breathing.
  • If solid food lodges in the esophagus, it may be felt as severe chest discomfort.
  • If food stuck in the lower esophagus regurgitates at night, individuals may awaken coughing and choking due to food entering the throat, larynx, or lungs.
  • Less commonly, swallowed food may regurgitate effortlessly into the mouth immediately after it is swallowed.

If dysphagia is associated with aspiration of food into the lungs, aspiration pneumonia may occur with all of the symptoms of pneumonia (fever, chills, and respiratory distress). This is a particular danger in individuals who have had a stroke. Dysphagia is present in approximately 51%-73% of individuals with stroke, and poses a major risk for the development of aspiration phneumonia.

Other symptoms associated with dysphagia depend upon its exact cause and are specific to the condition that results in dysphagia, such as stroke, cancer, etc.

When to Seek Medical Care for Dysphagia

If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing, you should contact your health care professional for an evaluation.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/26/2016

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