Dysphagia is a medical term used for someone who has difficulty in swallowing. It is quite a common condition, especially in adults. Due to the complexity associated with dysphagia, it often goes undiagnosed or can be mistaken for other diseases. A careful correlation between history taking, examination, and clinical symptoms helps a physician reach the diagnosis.
What is Dysphagia
Dysphagia means facing difficulty in swallowing food and drinks. Though it may seem like a simple process, swallowing is a complex activity that involves the coordination of the brain with muscles, nerves, food pipe, and valves. A structural or functional disorder in any of these components may lead to dysphagia.
It is important to differentiate dysphagia from occasional incidents of choking or difficulty in gulping the food due to incomplete chewing or hasty eating. It can only be referred to as dysphagia when the complaint is persistent and has an underlying cause for it.
Symptoms of Dysphagia
Dysphagia can happen to anyone, but it is more common in elderly people as they are prone to nervous system disorders like stroke and Parkinson’s disease. The hindered swallowing interferes with regular food consumption as those affected may tend to avoid eating and drinking to avoid the discomfort.
The intensity of discomfort associated with swallowing varies with each individual. Some patients might also experience pain while swallowing. The other symptoms of dysphagia include:
● A sensation of food stuck behind the chest.
● Rising of food back in the mouth.
● Drooling of food or water.
● Burning sensation in the chest.
● Unexplained weight loss.
● Food getting stuck in the pharynx leading to choking.
The after-effects of long term dysphagia may affect the overall health as it may lead to nutritional deficiency and weight loss, hampering the immune function. Persistent complaints of dysphagia, if not managed efficiently, may lead to complications such as choking, dehydration, malnutrition due to decreased intake of food and fluids.
Recurrent pneumonia has also been observed in patients with dysphagia, due to the infection caused as a result of the migration of food into the windpipe.
How can dysphagia be treated?
The treatment varies according to the cause of dysphagia.
● For a functional disturbance such as neurological disorder and reflux diseases, appropriate administrations of medications can resolve it.
● For structural dysfunctions like narrowing of the food pipe, esophageal dilation is done, whereas surgery is recommended for the presence of foreign bodies or tumorous growths.
● Plummer Vinson Syndrome can be treated with iron supplements, and surgery may be required to remove the membranous growths and widen the food pipe.
Apart from this, a chronic dysphagia patient may require to learn swallowing techniques to strengthen muscles and stimulate the nerves.
If you or any of your loved ones are suffering from dysphagia, then you may want to opt for the following precautionary measures that will facilitate swallowing for your near and dear ones:
- Make sure to sit upright for some time after a meal.
- Always try to eat with full concentration and avoid talking or laughing while eating.
- If you have trouble swallowing, then take relatively small bites and chew slowly.
- In patients with dysphagia for solid foods, increased intake of fluids helps a great deal.
- Liquify the solid food items to facilitate gulping.
- For those of you having issues in gulping thin liquids, using liquid thickeners is recommended on the advice of your doctor.
Recipes for the ones with dysphagia
Dysphagia has a direct impact on appetite as a compensatory mechanism to avoid discomfort. Under such circumstances, certain food recipes might prove helpful. The recipes are prepared in such a manner to accomplish satiety and also ascertain necessary nutrition.
Certain individuals are unable to swallow solids while some are not comfortable with liquids. Depending upon the condition of your patient, you may tweak the recipe for their maximum benefit.
● Buttered vegetables
Take fresh green leafy vegetables and cook them properly. Blend these with one teaspoon vegetable oil and bread and serve after reheating the mixture. Do not blend the bread if it can be swallowed comfortably.
● Creamy pumpkin pasta
Boil pasta and pumpkin in water for about 15 – 20 minutes separately and simultaneously cook onion and garlic in a frying pan. First, blend pumpkin and onion and then reheat the same. After that, add pasta to the mixture after draining and add salt and other seasonings.
● Fruit smoothie
Take ½ banana, 3 – 4 strawberries and blueberries, two spoons vanilla yoghurt, 1 teaspoon honey, juice of one orange, and 450 ml low-fat milk. Blend all these ingredients thoroughly for about 2 minutes and then pass the fluid through a sieve to filter out any solid particles separating the smooth liquid portion.
● Lentil and cauliflower curry
Fry onion, garlic, cumin powder, coriander powder, and curry powder in a pan. Add cauliflower and cook until soft; add water if required. Now add lentils, salt, and pepper and cook some more. Now blend the mixture and coconut cream to augment taste.
● Avo-cocoa pudding
This incredibly delicious recipe includes blended banana, ripe avocado, milk, and cocoa powder.
● Coconut mango puree
This is one of the simplest recipes for you to try that will leave you drooling for more. Just blend together a fresh mango with fresh coconut water or coconut cream, and your dish is ready to be savoured.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What is the likely cause of dysphagia?
There are multiple causes of dysphagia ranging from neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis to narrowing of the oesophagus due to the presence of a tumour or stricture. Other causes include Plummer Vinson Syndrome, muscular spasm of the food pipe or dysfunction of the valves involved in swallowing.
- What is the difficulty in swallowing a symptom of?
Difficulty in swallowing may be a symptom of multiple disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stroke, head injury, multiple sclerosis, dementia, and even cancer.
- How long can you live with dysphagia?
Living with a condition like dysphagia can be difficult for you as well as your loved ones. But it is not possible to put a definite number as it depends on multiple factors like the cause of dysphagia, age, presence of other conditions. In the absence of any complications, it is possible to live a long and healthy life with certain precautions, even for a patient with dysphagia.
- What foods should you avoid with dysphagia?
Foods to avoid with dysphagia will vary with every patient depending upon the underlying cause and severity of the problem. However, certain foods should be avoided by those of you who might be suffering from dysphagia. These include dry cereals, raw vegetables, seeds, nuts, and hard cheese.