Swallowing problems (dysphagia)
Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. Some people with dysphagia have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others can't swallow at all. You should see your GP if you are having problems swallowing.
Signs of swallowing problems
As well as problems swallowing certain foods and liquids, other signs of dysphagia include:
- coughing or choking when eating or drinking
- bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
- a sensation that food is stuck in your throat or chest
- persistent drooling of saliva
Over time, dysphagia can also cause symptoms such as weight loss and repeated chest infections.
You should see your GP if you have any problems with swallowing.
Causes of dysphagia
Dysphagia is usually caused by another health condition, such as:
- a condition that affects the nervous system, such as a stroke, head injury, or dementia
- cancer – such as mouth cancer or oesophageal cancer
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where stomach acid leaks back up into the oesophagus
Dysphagia can also occur in children as the result of a developmental or learning disability.
Dysphagia can be caused by problems with the:
- mouth or throat, known as oropharyngeal or "high" dysphagia
- oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach), known as oesophageal or "low" dysphagia
Treatment usually depends on the cause and type of dysphagia. The type of dysphagia you have can usually be diagnosed after testing your swallowing ability and examining your oesophagus.
Many cases of dysphagia can be improved with treatment, but a cure isn't always possible. Your GP will talk to you about the best treatment for you.
Complications of dysphagia
Dysphagia can sometimes lead to further problems. One of the most common problems is coughing or choking when food goes down the "wrong way" and blocks your airway.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.