Dysphagia is difficulty or pain with swallowing. It may be due to any of a wide variety of causes. the most serious possible cause is esophageal cancer, a rare type of cancer that, in advanced stages, can be difficult to treat (the esophagus is the tube through which food moves from the mouth to the stomach). For this reason, ongoing difficulty swallowing should be reported to your physician promptly.
Fortunately, the most common causes of swallowing difficulty are also much less serious. Causes include herniation (protrusion out of its usual place) of part of the esophagus through a weak area in the surrounding muscle; achalasia, a condition in which the sphincter muscle between the stomach and the esophagus does not relax as it should; a stricture (narrowing), muscle spasm, inflammation, or infection of the esophagus; a tear in the lining of the throat; benign (non-cancerous) tumors, congenital (present at birth) disorders of the esophagus, too little saliva production, and (especially in a child) a foreign object stuck in the throat. Dysphagia is also associated with several other disease processes including Parkinson's disease, strokes, and certain muscle disorders. Risk increases with age, smoking, and acid reflux disease.
Other symptoms may include:
Pain or burning associated with swallowing.
Sensation that food is "stuck" in the throat, or takes a long time to go down.
Dysphagia may be intermittent (come and go) or it may be constant.
Episodes of choking and a feeling of pressure in the middle of the chest.
It may become worse over a period of weeks.
What your doctor can do:
Diagnose the underlying disease by asking about your symptoms, performing a physical exam and ordering diagnostic tests.
Tests may include taking a sample of the secretions in the esophagus, endoscopy (use of a thin, telescope-like tube to view inside the esophagus); esophageal manometry (checks the muscle and sphincter function); X-rays or a CT scan of the chest
Treatment depends on the exact cause:
Medications that relax the muscle.
Minor outpatient procedures to correct some problems.
Hospitalization may be required for treatment of severe disorders including surgery or intravenous (IV) supplements.
Contact your doctor, if you or a family member are having difficulty or pain while swallowing, or if, after treatment, new symptoms develop.