Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)


Swallowing is the process by which food and fluid is transported from the mouth to the stomach. Swallowing is a complex activity that is divided into three stages: the oral (mouth), pharyngeal (throat) and oesophageal phases.

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing, and includes aspiration, which defined as the unwanted passage of swallowed material into the lower airway, inferior to the vocal folds. Aspiration is a serious problem, because aspiration may result in life threatening respiratory complications, such as laryngospasm, bronchospasm, tracheobronchitis and pneumonia.

Dysphagia is a very important symptom to recognise because it raises significant issues for the person who has the difficulty swallowing: nutrition and hydration, safety (aspiration may lead to respiratory complications such as pneumonia), psychological wellbeing, and the possibility of cancer.

A multidisciplinary team approach for the evaluation and treatment of people with a swallowing disorder is recommended, as there are many possible causes and several complementary approaches to treatment. The team may include clinicians from Otorhinolaryngology, Speech Language Therapy, Radiology, Nutrition, Neurology, Gastroenterology, General Surgery, Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Medicine.