Difficulty in swallowing
Q. My mother has a condition called dysphagia. Can you explain what that it?
Dysphagia refers to the difficulty in swallowing. There are many different causes of dysphagia. Essentially, they occur when there is a blockage in our swallowing passage (mainly in the esophagus) and it is a muscular or nervous system disorder.
The causes of dysphagia include stroke, other neurological conditions like severe head injury or Parkinson’s disease, medical conditions like Myasthenia Gravis (an auto-immune neuromuscular disease which leads to fluctuating muscle weakness and fatigability) or myopathy (a muscular disease in which the muscle fibres do not function for any one of many reasons, resulting in muscular weakness), surgical conditions like cancer of the esophagus or gastric reflux, and even spinal conditions like severe cervical spondylosis.
When the symptoms of dysphagia occur, one should see a medical practitioner. This is because persistent dysphagia can cause problems like loss of weight, malnutrition and even aspiration pneumonia (food going down the lungs instead of into the stomach).
The work up for dysphagia includes a proper history to evaluate its severity and the kinds of foods, which give rise to this difficulty in swallowing as well as a thorough physical and neurological examination. A video-fluoroscopic examination done by a speech therapist can help determine if food is at risk of going down the wrong passage. Often, a gastroscopy (endoscopic) examination is necessary to exclude a tumour blocking the esophagus or a stomach problem like gastric reflux. – Dr Ernest Wang, senior consultant neurosurgeon, Neurosurgery Partners, Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre & Gleneagles Medical Centre
(**PHOTO CREDIT: slowpix.org)