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Trouble Swallowing Checker

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Your Trouble Swallowing May Also be Known as:
Can't swallow
Difficulty swallowing
Hard to swallow
Hurts to swallow

Trouble Swallowing Symptoms

Trouble swallowing, or dysphagia, is the inability to swallow foods and liquids with ease. Dysphagia can affect men and women and occur at any age.

Dysphagia may be associated with symptoms such as:

Sometimes people experience occasional dysphagia when eating too fast or not chewing food properly; however, sometimes dysphagia can be chronic and persistent. People with chronic trouble swallowing often have to cut their food into smaller pieces or avoid certain foods due to their difficulties in swallowing.

Chronic dysphagia can also be associated with symptoms such as:

Chronic dysphagia often signals serious underlying conditions, so it is important to seek medical care promptly in order to get a diagnosis and appropriate trouble swallowing treatment.

Trouble Swallowing Causes Overview

An intricate system of multiple pairs of muscles and nerves work together to control swallowing. Anything that causes irritation, injury, compression or damage to these components can result in difficulty swallowing. The causes of dysphagia can be categorized as either oropharyngeal or esophageal.

Oropharyngeal

The oropharynx is the oral cavity to the hyoid bone (the horseshoe-shaped bone located in the middle of the neck halfway between the chin and the thyroid cartilage). Conditions that weaken the throat muscles of the oropharynx result in trouble swallowing because your body cannot move food from your mouth into the throat and esophagus. People with oropharyngeal swallowing problems often choke or gag when trying to swallow. These types of conditions can be categorized as having a neurological or obstructive cause.

  • Neurological: Disorders such as multiple sclerosis, strokes and spinal cord injury that cause damage and dysfunction of the nerves that facilitate swallowing can result in oropharyngeal difficulty.
  • Obstructive: Obstruction in the oropharynx can happen due to cancers of the neck or the development of pouches just above the esophagus that collect food particles. These pouches are known as diverticulum and can result in difficulty swallowing, bad breath and coughing.

Esophageal

The esophagus is the long muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The upper esophagus is composed of a sphincter – a bundle of muscles that are important for control of eating and protecting the airway. The lower esophagus also has a sphincter that closes and contracts to prevent acid and stomach contents from going back into the esophagus. Conditions that cause esophageal difficulties in swallowing can be categorized as muscular or structural.

  • Muscular: When the sphincters of the esophagus do not properly relax or contract, food is often regurgitated back into the throat after swallowing. The muscles can also spasm, resulting in multiple, uncoordinated contractions of the esophagus that make swallowing painful.
  • Structural: The esophagus can become narrowed due to a variety of conditions. This causes difficulty swallowing because food gets trapped or cannot move past the narrowing or blockage into the stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) often causes narrowing and scarring of the esophagus due to the stomach acid that regurgitates into the esophagus.

Top 10 Trouble Swallowing Causes

  1. 1.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    You should visit your primary care physician if you get heartburn regularly. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to reduce the acidity of the stomach. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food may help reduce heartburn as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, cough with dry or watery sputum, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Iron Deficiency Anemia

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who will take a blood test to confirm diagnosis. Treatment involves iron supplementation (pills) or transfusion in really extreme cases (not likely).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes.

    While many people with IBS try to cope with the condition on their own, it could make a big difference if you talk to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a variety of treatments such as medication, diet counseling, or alternative therapies.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), constipation, nausea or vomiting, stool changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Swelling Caused by Use of an Ace Inhibitor

    ACE Inhibitors are drugs used to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure and diabetes. In rare cases, these drugs can cause an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

    You should go to the ER immediately. There, your doctor can consider the possibility of an allergic reaction, treat it, and make sure that you are able to breathe.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, swollen face, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, swollen tongue
    Symptoms that never occur with swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor:
    hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  5. 5.Side - Effect(s) of Chemotherapy

    Unfortunately, chemotherapy has many side-effects, ranging from hair loss to fatigue to nausea. This occurs because the treatment affects not only diseased cells but also healthy cells.

    You should discuss your symptoms with your oncologist or oncology nurse.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, fever, dizziness
    Symptoms that never occur with side-effect(s) of chemotherapy:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    You needs to go to the hospital by ambulance or as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the fewer treatment options available and the worse the outcome.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, new headache, arm numbness, being severely ill, leg numbness
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  7. 7.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Call 911 immediately. The longer you wait, the fewer treatment options available and the worse the outcome.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, new headache, being severely ill, stiff neck, arm weakness
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Low Calcium Level

    Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.

    You should seek advice and a blood test from your primary care physician. To treat hypocalcemia, take a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily, and increase consumption of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. You should also avoid drinking too many soft drinks, which contain phosphates - a chemical that can interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium. Avoiding salty foods is also helpful, as salt makes the body lose calcium.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Fungal Esophageal Infection (Candida Esophagitis)

    Candida esophagitis (thrush) is a yeast infection of the mucus membrane lining the mouth and tongue. It can spread to the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This can cause symptoms like pain when swallowing. Patients with a supressed immune system are more at risk.

    You do should discuss with your primary care physician if treatment with anti-fungal therapy is needed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, moderate fever, pain with swallowing
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Aspiration Pneumonia

    Aspiration Pneumonia occurs when food, saliva, liquids, or vomit is breathed into the lungs or airways leading to the lungs, causing an infection.

    Going to your doctor is important, since diagnosing Aspiration Pneumonia requires a chest x-ray and a blood test. Given the possibility of the infection worsening, starting antibiotic treatment as soon as possible is really key.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, fever, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Trouble Swallowing Treatments and Relief

Oropharyngeal and esophageal causes of trouble swallowing have different treatments. It is important to see your physician promptly in order to get the proper trouble swallowing treatment.

  • Oropharyngeal: Since oropharyngeal dysphagia is a problem with how your throat muscles move, your physician may refer you for swallowing therapy where you can learn different exercises and techniques to better coordinate your swallowing and stimulate the nerves that trigger swallowing.
  • Esophageal: Treatments for esophageal causes often involve widening and expanding the esophagus.

    • Dilation: This is a special procedure that uses a scope with a special balloon attached to stretch and expand the width of the esophagus.
    • Surgery: Obstructive causes such as cancerous tumors, diverticulum and other outgrowths can be removed with surgery.
    • Medications: Difficulty swallowing associated with GERD are often treated with prescription oral medications that help reduce stomach acid.

In addition to the treatment above try the following lifestyle changes to further help alleviate your trouble swallowing symptoms:

  • Modify eating habits. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Chew food slowly and thoroughly. Cut food into smaller pieces if necessary.
  • Avoid foods that cause you trouble.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. These factors can make heartburn and GERD worse.

FAQs About Trouble Swallowing

Here are some frequently asked questions about trouble swallowing.

Can anxiety cause difficulty in swallowing?

Generally, no. Anxiety does not cause difficulty swallowing. It can, however, cause dry mouth which can cause difficulty chewing and swallowing — particularly dry foods like crackers. Other common causes of difficulty swallowing are a common cold or sore throat and allergies.

Why do I feel like I have a lump in my throat?

A lump in the throat is a condition that commonly accompanies anxiety and is known as globus sensation. Globus sensation does not have a known cause, though some theorize that it may be because of increased muscle tension. It is not known to be connected to any actual negative physical consequences.

Can your thyroid cause you to have trouble swallowing?

Yes, a significant increase in the size of your thyroid, called a goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid gland, can cause difficulty swallowing. The thyroid sits along the front of the neck and enlargement is often caused by insufficient iodine in the diet. Because of the position of the thyroid, it can cause difficulty swallowing.

Why do I have difficulty swallowing and breathing when lying down?

There are two common causes of difficulty breathing while lying down. The first is related to your weight. For overweight individuals, it can be difficult to draw breath into the body because of the amount of body mass the chest has to lift when lying flat. Additionally, body mass around the neck can lead to obstructive sleep apnea, which causes increased resistance to flowing air while sleeping. Additionally, if you have fluid backup into your lungs because of congestive heart failure CHF), this could cause difficulty breathing while lying down (orthopnea), which is alleviated by numerous pillows to elevate the upper body or sitting in a chair.

When I have a sore throat why do I have difficulty swallowing?

A sore throat often causes difficulty swallowing because of either the swelling or the pain. The swelling from a sore throat can cause a narrowing of the pharynx and make it harder to fit hard or large food items past the esophagus. At the same time, a severe sore throat can be painful enough to make it less desirable to swallow or make the process feel more difficult.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Trouble Swallowing

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our trouble swallowing symptom checker.

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Trouble Swallowing Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced trouble swallowing have also experienced:

    • 5% Pain With Swallowing
    • 4% Sore Throat
    • 4% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced trouble swallowing were most often matched with:

    • 26% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
    • 17% Iron Deficiency Anemia
    • 3% Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Trouble Swallowing Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having trouble swallowing.

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