What Are the Causes of Dysphagia?

06 August, 2020
Dysphagia refers to discomfort or difficulty when swallowing and occurs for a number of reasons. Today, we'll tell you more abut the causes of dysphagia.

The causes of dysphagia

This disorder to considered a geriatric syndrome, given that it’s especially prevalent among the elderly. Below are some of the possible causes of dysphagia:

  • Neurological disorders: Some illnesses like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, as well as others, can produce dysphagia. This is because the muscles that participate in the act of swallowing don’t function correctly.
  • Cancer: One of the symptoms that can be a sign of throat cancer is difficulty swallowing. However, undergoing treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy can also lead to the same consequences.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux: Suffering frequent reflux can produce injury to the esophagus which leads to scarring and the narrowing of this tube.
  • Foreign bodies: Sometimes dysphagia can be the result of foreign objects that have become lodged in the throat.  A piece of unchewed meat or a lack of teeth are frequent causes of dysphagia.
A man with swallowing difficulties.

These are just some of the possible causes of dysphagia, although there are others that can also produce this symptomatology. For example, achalasia, which is the result of the muscles of the esophagus not relaxing properly, can also cause dysphagia.

So, now that you know the possible causes of dysphagia, we’ll take a look at the possible consequences.

The consequences of dysphagia

As we’ve mentioned, dysphagia affects an age group that already finds itself at serious risk. Therefore, it’s important to be aware and see a doctor if you experience any swallowing difficulties. If you don’t, the condition can lead to serious complications.

In order to go into detail regarding the consequences that can result from dysphagia, we’ll refer to the article you’ll find here. The article not only talks about the consequences, but also several treatment options that currently exist.

Malnutrition

When an elderly person suffers from dysphagia and can’t ingest food or liquids, then he or she may become severely malnourished. In fact, the problem can become so series that the person may even be unable to swallow his or her own saliva.

In these cases, it’s important to modify a person’s diet and administer oral supplements. At the same time, a resource for preventing malnutrition is to use a tube in order to administer the nutrients the patient needs.

Discover more: What’s on a Nutrition Label?

Respiratory problems

This second complication occurs when a patient involuntarily breathes in a piece of food that goes directly into his or her respiratory airways. This can make it impossible for the person to breathe, producing respiratory failure.

A woman that can't breathe.

Dysphagia can also lead to pneumonitis due to aspiration as well as pneumonia due to aspiration. These situations are quite serious and require urgent treatment given the risk they pose to the life of elderly patients.

In order to treat respiratory problems, prevention is the best medicine. Therefore, it’s important to apply compensatory maneuvers in order to reduce aspiration and the risk of any food blocking the airways.

You may also want to read: What’s a Nasogastric Feeding Tube?

Issues to keep in mind

Besides all of the above, there are certain issues that are important to keep in mind when a person suffers from dysphagia. Most importantly, you should provide the patient with a calm environment and avoid distractions that can lead to aspiration. And, above all else, you should follow the specific indications of the patient’s doctor.

If you have any of the symptoms that characterize dysphagia, be sure to talk with your doctor. This is especially crucial if you belong to an at-risk population. Your doctor will perform the necessary tests in order to verify the diagnosis. What’s more, he or she will provide a series of recommendations that you should begin to put into practice.

Once again, remember that prevention is of the utmost importance in these cases and that certain exercises can improve a person’s ability to swallow foods and liquids.

  • Baena González, Marta, & Molina Recio, Guillermo. (2016). Abordaje de la disfagia en enfermos de alzhéimer. Nutrición Hospitalaria, 33(3), 739-748. https://dx.doi.org/10.20960/nh.286
  • Barbié Rubiera, Amarilis, Marcos Plasencia, Ligia, & Aguilera Martínez, Yolanda. (2009). Disfagia en paciente con enfermedad cerebrovascular. Actualización. MediSur, 7(1), 36-44. Recuperado en 30 de abril de 2019, de http://scielo.sld.cu/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1727-897X2009000100007&lng=es&tlng=es.
  • Suárez-Escudero, J. C., Rueda Vallejo, Z. V., & Orozco, A. F. (2018). Disfagia y neurología:¿ una unión indefectible?. Acta Neurológica Colombiana, 34(1), 92-100.