Doctors use the medical term dysphagia to refer to swallowing problems. This can mean having trouble swallowing certain drinks or food items, or being unable to swallow at all. It can be caused by any of the following underlying conditions:
If you suffer any damage to your nervous system (brain and spinal cord), this damage can interfere with the nerves involved in starting and controlling the swallowing movement. This type of damage can be caused by a stroke, brain tumors, or myasthenia gravis, which is a very uncommon condition that weakens muscles.
Some neurological conditions can do damage to the brain and nervous system over time. These conditions include dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and motor neurone disease.
If there’s an obstruction in the throat or the esophagus becomes too narrow, swallowing can become much more difficult. This type of problem can be caused by some type of throat or mouth cancer like laryngeal cancer or esophageal cancer. When the cancer has been treated, often the obstruction disappears as well.
Infections, such as thrush or tuberculosis, can also cause inflammation of the esophagus that can lead to swallowing difficulties. This is also true of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), when your esophagus becomes narrower due to stomach acid causing scar tissue to develop.
Other conditions that can cause an obstruction include eosinophilic oesophagitis and pharyngeal (throat) pouches. When you have eosinophilic oesophagitis, your body reacts to certain allergens by building up a type of white blood cell in the lining of the esophagus. This buildup damages the esophagus lining and causes the swallowing difficulties. With throat pouches, your esophagus develops a large sack that reduces your ability to swallow.
Even radiotherapy can also cause an obstruction in the esophagus. The treatment can lead to scar tissue that can narrow the passageway in the throat.
Children can have problems with dysphagia if they’re born with a cleft lip and palate. Cerebral palsy can also affect the movement and coordination of the body parts needed for swallowing. Learning difficulties may also make it difficult for some children to learn to swallow.
Though it’s rare, it’s also possible that a medical condition can affect the muscles needed to push down the food into the esophagus and into the stomach. Achalasia is one such muscular condition that’s sometimes associated with dysphagia. This condition causes the muscles in the esophagus to lose their ability to relax and open to let food through.
Another potential problem is scleroderma. This is when the immune system attacks healthy tissue. This can cause a stiffening of the muscles in the throat and esophagus, leading to problems with swallowing.
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