What happens when I swallow?
It might seem like a perfectly straightforward action, but swallowing involves the coming together of nerves, muscles, valves, and your esophagus, so they all do the right thing at the right time.
When your brain decides it’s time to swallow the food in your mouth, one valve closes off your airway to prevent food or fluid entering your lungs, while another valve opens to allow food to go down your esophagus, the pipe that leads from your mouth to your stomach.
The food or fluid enters the esophagus, where muscular contractions squeeze it downward. Another valve opens in response to the esophageal contractions, and the food enters your stomach.
Why would I have difficulty swallowing?
Difficulty swallowing is a medical condition called dysphagia, and there are several reasons why you might develop this problem:
- Muscle dysfunction following a stroke
- Achalasia, a condition affecting sphincter muscles
- GERD (gastroenterological reflux disease)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Tumors blocking the throat or esophagus
Most of the time, food and drink pass down the esophagus with no trouble at all, although you may occasionally experience a lump of food getting stuck momentarily. These blockages are easy enough to clear with a drink, but if you find you’re frequently choking, that could be a sign of some kind of swallowing dysfunction.
If you feel like your food takes longer than a few seconds to travel down the esophagus, or you experience pain when you swallow, you should call Gastroenterology Associates of Western Colorado and book a consultation to find out what’s causing your swallowing difficulty.
How are swallowing difficulties diagnosed and treated?
The Gastroenterology Associates of Western Colorado team can run a series of tests to find the cause of your swallowing difficulties, such as:
- Cineradiography, a type of barium X-ray
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
- Manometry to test the muscles in the esophagus
- Impedance and pH test to check for GERD
Once the cause of your swallowing difficulties is clear, your medical team can prescribe the appropriate treatment for any underlying condition. You can also help reduce the problems you’re experiencing by concentrating when you’re eating, sitting in an upright position, and eating slowly and carefully. Eating softer foods can also help relieve symptoms.
If you experience difficulty swallowing, call Gastroenterology Associates of Western Colorado today.