Dysphagia is a medical term many people may not recognize. Unfortunately, as many as 300,000 to 700,00 people of all ages in the US suffer from this condition but few seek treatment unless the symptoms seem to be severe or life-threatening. In its simplest definition, dysphagia is a condition that leads to difficulty in swallowing. As with any disease or health condition, there are various degrees of suffering, and some are progressive while others may simply stay the same throughout a person’s lifetime. Now that you have an idea of exactly what dysphagia is, let’s look at some of the health conditions that can lead to it. This will help you know if it’s time to discuss this with your doctor.
A Word on the Two Main Types of Dysphagia
Actually, there are two main types of dysphagia categorized as either oropharyngeal dysphagia or esophageal dysphagia. The first type, oropharyngeal dysphagia is something that causes difficulty swallowing between the mouth and throat while esophageal dysphagia is something that affects swallowing in the tube that leads from your mouth to your stomach. Either can be life-threatening if it causes you to aspirate or choke so it is important to understand that this is beyond a one-time issue.
Many people breathe occasionally when drinking which we call “drinking down the wrong pipe” but that isn’t cause for concern. When you find that you or someone you care for has frequent issues swallowing without choking or breathing food into the lungs, it’s time to seek medical attention for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. You will be told what types of foods are safe and which to avoid. In all cases, anything liquid should be thickened with a product like SimplyThick Easy Mix. Liquids can easily be aspirated which is dangerous in itself.
This is something many people aren’t aware of as something to watch for when caring for someone with dementia. It isn’t that they ‘forget’ to swallow but rather that the part of the brain that controls swallowing has been affected in later stages of the disease. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, this is something to watch for in advanced stages.
As with patients suffering from dementia, someone who has suffered a stroke may also have experienced trauma to the area of the brain that controls swallowing. Just as stroke patients often have trouble talking, they may also have difficulty swallowing. Once released from the hospital and given over to care in the home, be watchful when feeding that person. This is something to discuss with your physician.
Certain cancers can lead to dysphagia, especially cancers of the throat or mouth. You can find a fairly thorough list here. The point is, if a cancer patient has difficulty swallowing, you will want to discuss a safe and healthy diet with the patient’s oncologist.
Just remember that dysphagia can lead to life-threatening consequences so if you, or someone you love, has frequent difficulty in swallowing foods and beverages, it’s time for a definite diagnosis.