The exact definition of dysphagia varies, but, in brief, dysphagia is difficulty with the act of swallowing solids or liquids. It may be subjective or objective and can refer to the sensation of not being able to swallow, food 'sticking' or not passing, choking episodes, or aspiration of food and/or liquids. It should be distinguished from odynophagia (pain on swallowing) and globus sensation (sensation of a lump in the throat between meals). Dysphagia can be caused by functional or structural abnormalities of the oral cavity, pharynx, oesophagus, or gastric cardia.
One in 17 people will develop dysphagia in their lifetime. The condition is reported to occur in 13% of the general population aged 65 years and older. However, rates of 50% or more have been reported in older individuals in residential care. Dysphagia affects 40% to 70% of people with stroke.
Dysphagia may be treated by various specialties or ideally by a multi-specialty team. The core of such a team includes the patient’s primary care physician, otolaryngologists, speech and swallowing therapists, gastroenterologists, and radiologists. In addition, neurologists, dieticians, oncologists, general surgeons, and thoracic surgeons are often involved in the patient’s care.
Swallowing, and therefore difficulty swallowing, can be anatomically and physiologically divided easily into three distinct parts: the oral phase, the pharyngeal phase, and the oesophageal phase.
The oral phase (sometimes referred to as the preparatory phase) is the voluntary phase that occurs in the oral cavity. Mastication with salivary lubrication and tongue movement prepares the bolus to be thrust posteriorly into the pharynx.
The pharyngeal phase involuntarily transfers the bolus of food and/or liquid from the mouth to the oesophagus. Its coordinated contractions not only are necessary to propel the bolus but are crucial in protecting the larynx and upper airway from aspiration of material into the airway and lung.
The oesophageal phase is the involuntary phase that utilises peristalsis to propagate the food/liquid bolus through the oesophagus into the stomach. The oesophagus is bound by upper and lower sphincters (the upper formed by the cricopharyngeus muscle), which prevent retrograde flow of stomach contents into the oesophagus.
- Oesophageal candidiasis
- Muscle tension dysphagia
- Diffuse oesophageal spasm
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux
- Hiatus hernia
- Post-operative cervical spine surgery
- Retropharyngeal abscess
- Oropharyngeal carcinoma (squamous cell carcinoma) and metastases
- Zenker diverticulum
- Cricopharyngeal bar
- Thyromegaly (goitre)
- Cervical lymphadenopathy
- Oropharyngeal stenosis
- Parkinson's disease
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Inflammatory myopathies
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Progressive supranuclear palsy
- Wilson's disease
- Tardive dyskinesia
- Idiopathic achalasia
- Nutcracker oesophagus
- Caustic agents
- Pill-induced injury
- Radiation exposure
- Oesophageal carcinoma
- Foreign body
- Benign oesophageal tumours (leiomyoma, lipoma, polyps)
- Oesophageal metastases
- Oesophageal compression
- Schatzki ring
- Gastroesophageal muscular ring
- Oesophageal diverticulum
- Eosinophilic oesophagitis
- Oesophageal web
- Oral mucositis
- Cervical osteophytes
- Guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of post-stroke dysphagia
- Assessment and management of dysphagia and malnutrition following stroke
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