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Dysphagia is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty in swallowing. Sufferers are sometimes unaware of their dysphagia. The word is derived from the Greek dys meaning bad or disordered and the word phag meaning "eat". It may be a sensation that suggests difficulty in the passage of solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach, a lack of pharyngeal sensation, or various other inadequacies of the swallowing mechanism. Dysphagia is distinguished from other symptoms including odynophagia, which is defined as painful swallowing, and globus, which is the sensation of a lump in the throat. A psychogenic dysphagia is known as phagophobia.
Some patients have limited awareness of their dysphagia, so lack of the symptom does not exclude an underlying disease. When dysphagia goes undiagnosed or untreated, patients are at a high risk of pulmonary aspiration and subsequent aspiration pneumonia secondary to food or liquids going the wrong way into the lungs. Some people present with "silent aspiration" and do not cough or show outward signs of aspiration. Undiagnosed dysphagia can also result in dehydration, malnutrition, and renal failure. Swallowing disorders can occur in all age groups, resulting from congenital abnormalities, structural damage, and/or medical conditions.
Swallowing problems are a common complaint among older individuals, and the incidence of dysphagia is higher in the elderly, in patients who have had strokes, and in patients who are admitted to acute care hospitals or chronic care facilities. Dysphagia is a symptom of many different causes, which can usually be elicited through a careful history by the treating physician. A formal oropharyngeal dysphagia evaluation is performed by a medical speech pathologist or occupational therapist.