Swallowing disorders are relatively common and are just as uncomfortable and horrible as they sound. Around 9 million Americans have a swallowing disorder, and your chances increase the older you get, especially if you have dementia.
This piece will take a look at everything you need to know about swallowing disorders, from what they are to how they are diagnosed.
Read on to find out more.
What Is A Swallowing Disorder?
A swallowing disorder, also known in medical terms as ‘Dysphagia’, can be caused by a variety of medical conditions but can also become a problem on its own. There are three phases of swallowing – oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal. These different phases of swallowing can be affected individually or together depending on any pre-existing medical conditions that may have contributed to its cause. For example, if a patient has had a stroke, this can affect the oral and/or pharyngeal phase of swallowing. It can be different for everyone.
*In the oral stage, the problem is with the mouth. This means that there is possibly a tongue weakness or another muscular issue. The patient might also have issues chewing their food as well.
*The pharyngeal stage means that there is an issue with the throat that is preventing the patient from swallowing correctly or being able to swallow at all. This, too, can be the result of a muscular issue or a neurological condition, such as dementia or Parkinson’s.
*The esophageal stage means that the problem lies in the esophagus, which can both be caused by a muscular disorder, or if there is an issue such as a blockage or compression on the esophagus.
What Happens When You Have Difficulty Swallowing?
First, the patient will be assessed on their swallowing, which will help determine a diagnosis. This is also an important step, as the assessment will determine if the patient is a risk to themselves, such as not being able to swallow without choking, and also aspiration, which is very dangerous. This is when food or water particles make their way into the lungs, which can cause a lung infection or other issues such as pneumonia.
The assessment is usually conducted by a speech-language pathologist, who can then go on to recommend treatment options.
How Are Swallowing Disorders Diagnosed
Swallowing disorders are diagnosed in a few ways, and how will mostly depend on the symptoms and issues that are present.
Commonly, a small camera will be inserted down the nose into the throat so a medical professional can take a look at how your body is swallowing and if there are any obvious causes for concern or blockages. The patient might also have a camera inserted down the throat and into as far as the stomach to check narrowing and make sure there are not any growths or obvious issues.
Another thing a patient might be asked to do is swallow tests, where a medical professional will ask them to eat or drink certain foods while taking X-rays of the activity to get a closer look at the problem.