Difficulty swallowing solid food or even liquids, the medical term is dysphagia, is usually a sign of a problem with your throat or esophagus. It is a common problem in older patients which can progress over time.

1. What are the causes?

The causes range from relatively simple problems such as fungal infections, poor oral hygiene, inflammation of the upper gut.

A dry mouth can make dysphagia worse as saliva helps move food out of your mouth and through your esophagus into your stomach. A dry mouth can be caused by medicines or another health problem.

However, we advise medial help for such symptoms as it could be due to more serious conditions such as cancer and neurological conditions that could be treated or controlled. For instance, if you have had a stroke or a brain or spinal cord injury, or certain problems with your nervous system, such as post-polio syndrome, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson's disease.

2. What are the symptoms?

  • Difficulty in swallowing liquids, solids, saliva and prolonged time to chew food
  • Food and fluid leakage from one side of the mouth
  • Unexplained weight loss, loose dentures etc
  • Unexplained loss of appetite, loss of awareness to ask for food and fluids
  • Vomiting after food and feeling nauseous, unable to digest food etc
  • Pain, gurgling noise whilst trying to swallow
  • Recurrent chest infections
  • Choking on food and fluids intermittent or regularly

If you experience any of the above problems, contact your local Primary Health Center for an appointment with a doctor. They will assess if you need to be referred to a specialist team.

3. What are the risks?

Difficulty swallowing can lead to:

  • Malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration because Dysphagia can make it difficult to take in adequate nourishment and fluids.
  • Dehydration and inadequate food can lead to constipation.
  • Chest infections, such as Aspiration pneumonia. Food or liquid entering your airway when you try to swallow can cause aspiration pneumonia, because the food can introduce bacteria to the lungs.
  • Choking on food that gets stuck in the throat - this can be life-threatening if the obstruction blocks the air passage.

Dysphasia can negatively impact the quality of life. It is important to get an early diagnosis to diagnose the condition and provide effective management of potentially serious medical problems.

4. What is the specialist team?

You will be assessed comprehensively by a team of Geriatricians, Dietitian, Speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. The team may refer you to other specialists if required such as Gastroenterology, Neurologist etc. based on the preliminary examination.

5. Post assessment and discharge follow up care

After full assessment it may be necessary for us to refer you to your local community speech and language therapist and dietitian team to monitor and support you and your family.

Although swallowing difficulties cannot always be prevented, but you can reduce having occasional difficulty in swallowing by eating slowly and chewing your food well. Early detection and effective treatment of GERD can lower your risk of developing dysphagia associated with an esophageal stricture.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that occurs when acidic stomach juices, or food and fluids back up from the stomach into the esophagus.