What is Dysphagia?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Dysphagia is the term used to describe difficulty swallowing. The term can be broken down into two parts – “dys” meaning difficulty and “phag” meaning eating.

For some people affected by the condition, the difficulty swallowing may be restricted to food only, while others may also have difficulty with liquids and some people are unable to swallow altogether.

Typical symptoms of this condition include coughing or choking when eating or drinking, a sensation of food being lodged in the throat or chest and a tendency to regurgitate food. Eventually, dysphagia may lead to weight loss and recurring chest infections.


Dysphagia is often a symptom of an underlying condition. Examples of these conditions  include:

  • Cancer of the mouth, throat or esophagus
  • A nervous system condition such as head injury or stroke
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder


The treatment approach to dysphagia depends on the underlying cause of the condition and the type of dysphagia the patient is suffering from. Exactly which type of dysphagia a person has can be determined using tests to check swallowing ability along with an examination of the esophagus.

The various different aspects to treatment include speech and language therapy, using a different feeding method (e.g. via a tube through the stomach or nose), surgery to open up any narrowing of the esophagus, and adjusting the consistency of food so that it can be swallowed more safely and easily. With treatment, many cases of dysphagia improve, although a cure is not always achieved.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 8, 2014

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