Summer is right around the corner. Barbecue grills are getting fired up, graduation parties with delectable cakes and sweet summertime drinks are just a few weeks away, and restaurants with outdoor patios are in full swing ready to serve you their finest southern cuisine. Don’t let difficulty swallowing interfere with your fun summer plans.
It’s common to choke on food once in a while if you eat too quickly, but if this happens on a frequent basis, you may have a condition called dysphagia, which requires a thorough medical evaluation by a gastroenterologist.
Dysphagia is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty in swallowing. Dysphagia may be a sensation that suggests difficulty in the passage of solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach, a lack of sensation during the swallowing process, or various other inadequacies of the swallowing mechanism. Although many of us don’t think twice about the act of swallowing, numerous mechanisms are involved such as nerve processes, muscle strength, and secretion of saliva, which are all important in the passage of food from your mouth to your stomach.
Central nervous disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or strokes, can sometimes affect the initial process of swallowing (oropharyngeal phase). Some signs of this condition may be coughing during swallowing or even regurgitation of food through the nose.
More commonly, people may be able to initiate a swallow, but have a problem with their esophagus (a 10-inch long, hollow, muscular tube that connects your throat to your stomach), which may cause the feeling of “food getting hung up in their throat”. If this occurs frequently or for a prolonged period of time, this may be a medical emergency!
Dysphagia may occur if you have muscles within the esophagus that are not working properly. Immune disorders, allergic reactions, inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), or even simple acid reflux may be the cause of your underlying problem. If so, a thorough evaluation by a gastroenterologist is needed, as certain conditions can be corrected with either medication or lifestyle changes.
Dysphagia may also be caused by something blocking your esophagus, such as a tumor. Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in the esophagus begin to grow abnormally. They do not respond to regular cell growth, division, and death signals like they are supposed to. They also don’t organize normally. Instead, they grow into a tumor, which may extend into the open space inside your esophagus or break through underlying layers of your esophageal wall.
This year, an estimated 16,940 adults (13,360 men and 3,580 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Some of the risk factors for esophageal cancer include obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and even simple acid reflux. As part of the work-up for dysphagia, gastroenterologists may perform a test called an upper endoscopy. This 5-10 minute procedure involves taking a look into the esophagus with a small camera. Based on what we find, we may have the ability to treat your underlying problem, and potentially prevent cancer from occurring!
If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing solids, liquids, or both; then it may mean you need to see a gastroenterologist for further information. Please contact our office at 336.768.6211 to make your appointment today!
Dr. Dhyan Rajan