What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia refers to difficulty or discomfort in swallowing. Patients with dysphagia are often unable to:

  • Chew certain foods or drink certain liquids
  • Attempt to swallow in a coordinated way
  • Feel the food and liquid as it passes through the throat or comes back up to the throat in reflux
  • Keep food down after it is swallowed
  • Ingest enough food and liquid to maintain good health

It is important to remember that a person does not simply “have dysphagia.” Rather, it is the result of something else that is debilitating the patient.

For example, dysphagia affects:

  • More than 30% of stroke (CVA) patients
  • Up to 82% of Parkinson’s patients
  • More than 84% of Alzheimer’s patients

Although dysphagia can occur at any age, it is more common in older adults. In fact, as of the year 2010, more than 16.5 million U.S. senior citizens require care for dysphagia. It affects:

  • More than 40% of adults age 65 and older
  • More than 60% of patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities
The Swallowing Process

Swallowing is a complex process, using nerves and muscles to move food from the mouth to the stomach.

After chewing, the prepared food is collected by the tongue, making it ready for swallowing. The food or liquid is pushed to the back of the mouth, which triggers a swallowing reflex that pushes the food through the pharynx.

During this stage, the larynx closes tightly, and breathing stops to prevent food or liquid from entering the lungs. Food or liquid then enters the esophagus, which carries it directly to the stomach.

Dysphagia occurs when there is a problem with any part of this swallowing process