Swallowing Difficulty: Introduction
Swallowing difficulty is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. Swallowing difficulty can result from infection, allergy, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction and other abnormal conditions.
Swallowing difficulty can occur in any age group or population. Swallowing difficulty can accompany a mild condition, such as anxiety or a sore throat due to shouting. Swallowing difficulty can also be the result of a moderate condition, disorder or disease, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), esophageal stricture or strep throat. Swallowing difficulty can also accompany serious conditions, such as foreign body, cancer of the esophagus, airway obstruction, throat trauma, tumor of the larynx and epiglottis.
Depending on the cause, swallowing difficulty can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when swallowing difficulty occurs after talking excessively, singing or straining the voice. Swallowing difficulty can also be chronic and ongoing over a longer period of time, such as when swallowing difficulty is due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or cancer of the esophagus.
Swallowing difficulty can be the result of a wide variety of other conditions, including a pharyngeal pouch, achalasia, esophageal stricture, pharyngitis, laryngitis, allergic reactions, mumps and infectious mononucleosis.
Swallowing difficulty often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other common symptoms include regurgitation of food, burning in the chest, chest pain, weight loss, fever, swollen glands, hoarseness and flu-like symptoms. Complications of swallowing difficulty can include decreased food and fluid intake. The underlying disorder, disease or condition can also cause complications, which can be serious, even life-threatening in some cases. For more details about symptoms and complications, see symptoms of swallowing difficulty.
Diagnosing swallowing difficulty and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. This includes examining the throat for signs of throat abnormalities such as redness and inflammation. Infection may be suspected when the tonsils are swollen and covered with pus. A temperature is also taken. Fever can indicate an infectious cause of the swallowing difficulty.
If an infection is the suspected cause of swallowing difficulty, a throat culture and sensitivity is performed. This test takes a swab sample of the throat and tonsils with a cotton swab. The sample is then examined and grown in the laboratory. A throat culture and sensitivity can diagnose strep throat.
Diagnosis may also include a complete blood count, which can help to determine if an infectious process, such as infectious mononucleosis is present. A test called a mono-spot may also be done to confirm infectious mononucleosis.
If an abnormality of the esophagus is the suspected cause of swallowing difficulty, other tests may be performed. These include a barium X-ray. In this test a special dye (barium) is swallowed. As barium passes through the gastrointestinal tract, it helps to illuminate the throat and esophagus and reveal any abnormalities, such as pharyngeal pouch, achalasia, or esophageal stricture.
Making a diagnosis also includes performing a variety of other tests to help to diagnose other potential underlying diseases, conditions or disorders, such as throat trauma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and cancer of the esophagus. Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include additional blood tests, biopsy, and imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans, and MRI.
A diagnosis of swallowing difficulty and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because swallowing difficulty may be mild or intermittent and for other reasons. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of swallowing difficulty.
Treatment of swallowing difficulty involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of swallowing difficulty. ...more »
Swallowing Difficulty: Symptoms
Swallowing difficulty can be experienced and described in many ways. This includes having a lump in the throat, pain when swallowing or a complete inability to swallow.
Symptoms that accompany swallowing difficulty vary depending on the underlying cause. Common symptoms of a disorder of the esophagus include regurgitation of food, vomiting, weight loss, bad breath, a bad ...more symptoms »
Swallowing Difficulty: Treatments
Treatment plans for swallowing difficulty are individualized depending on the underlying cause, the presence of coexisting diseases, the age and medical history of the patient, and other factors. Treatment generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the cause, minimizes the discomfort of swallowing difficulty, decreases the risk of developing serious ...more treatments »
Swallowing Difficulty: Misdiagnosis
Diagnosing swallowing difficulty and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases, swallowing difficulty may not be severe enough for a person to seek medical care. In addition, diagnosing the underlying or associated disease, disorder or condition can be delayed because noticeable symptoms, such as swallowing difficulty, may not occur immediately, such as in ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Swallowing Difficulty
Read more about symptoms of Swallowing Difficulty
Home Diagnostic Testing
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Causes of Swallowing Difficulty
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Swallowing Difficulty: Undiagnosed Conditions
Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:
Misdiagnosis and Swallowing Difficulty
Chronic digestive conditions often misdiagnosed: When diagnosing chronic symptoms
of the digestive tract, there are a variety of conditions that may be misdiagnosed.
The best known, irritable bowel syndrome, is over...read more »
Intestinal bacteria disorder may be hidden cause: One of the lesser known causes of diarrhea
is an imbalance of bacterial in the gut, sometimes called intestinal imbalance.
The digestive system contains a variety of "good" bacteria that...read more »
Antibiotics often causes diarrhea: The use of antibiotics are very likely
to cause some level of diarrhea in patients.
The reason is that antibiotics kill off not only "bad" bacteria,
but can also kill the "good" bacteria in the gut....read more »
Food poisoning may actually be an infectious disease: Many people who come down
with "stomach symptoms" like diarrhea assume that it's "something I ate" (i.e. food poisoning).
In...read more »
Mesenteric adenitis misdiagnosed as appendicitis in children: Because appendicitis is one of the
more feared conditions for a child with...read more »
Celiac disease often fails to be diagnosed cause of chronic digestive symptoms: One of the most common chronic digestive
conditions is celiac disease, a malabsorption disorder with a variety of symptoms (see ...read more »
Chronic digestive diseases hard to diagnose: There is an inherent
difficulty in diagnosing the various types of chronic digestive diseases.
Some of the better known...read more »
Read more about Misdiagnosis and Swallowing Difficulty
Swallowing Difficulty: Research Doctors & Specialists
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- Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists:
- Digestive Health Specialists (Gastroenterology):
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Hospitals & Clinics: Swallowing Difficulty
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Swallowing Difficulty: Rare Types
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Swallowing Difficulty: Animations
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