Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is not a disease itself, but rather is brought on by other diseases. Some cases of dysphagia are mild and easily treatable, while others are more serious and can be life-threatening. It may be difficult to find the best treatment, but they are out there, and speech pathologists will find the most suitable one for a specific condition.
Phases of Swallowing
The whole swallowing process is rather complex and it involves over 40 pairs of muscles. It is important to know the different phases of swallowing because dysphagia may occur in either the second and third phase. Targeting the treatment to a specific area will give the best results.
Food or drink enters the mouth and gets pushed into the back of the mouth toward the upper part of the throat. Here, both breathing and swallowing occur.
The food and drink moves down the throat while various muscles briefly shut off breathing, direct the food or drink away from the breathing tube that leads to the lungs, and guide the food and drink into the esophagus and stomach.
This phase starts when the food or drink encounters a one way valve called the upper esophageal sphincter. After passing through this sphincter, the food or drink travels down the esophagus to the lower esophageal sphincter. Swallowing is complete when this latter sphincter relaxes, allowing the food or drink to drop into the stomach.
Types of Dysphagia
In young people, the most common cause of dysphagia is inflammatory muscle disease and two kinds of obstructions that can form in the esophagus. In older adults, dysphagia usually results from central nervous system problems, such as a stroke or Parkinson’s. Below are the two different types of dysphagia along with some of (but not all) their causes.
Oropharyngeal Dysphagia—causes a swallowing problem before the food or drink reaches the upper esophagus. Causes:
Esophageal Dysphagia—the problem arises after the food or drink reaches the upper esophagus. Causes:
Treatment for Dysphagia
Several types of healthcare providers will meet to figure the best treatment for a patient of dysphagia: physicians, registered dietitians, psychologists, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists. During treatment, the goal is to provide treatment and adequate nutrition while protecting against complications such as pneumonia from food or liquid getting into the lungs.
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