Almost one in 10 Americans experiences chronic difficulty swallowing. Most of these people are over 65, though it can happen to anyone. Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, is a symptom of head and neck cancers, stroke, brain trauma, cerebral palsy, and of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. Generally, it is due to the muscles of the esophagus being unable to move food towards the stomach.
This can lead to fatal complications. A number of dysphagic individuals, mostly elderly hospital patients, develop aspiration pneumonia, in which food or liquid ends up in the lungs. Untreated, this can quickly lead to suffocation.
Hospitals are starting to use assessment techniques to determine which patients are at risk for dysphagia. These techniques, including questionnaires administered to patients, allow institutions to take proactive steps to prevent dysphagia and complications that arise from it.
If you are having painful swallowing, particularly if it’s causing weight loss or affecting your enjoyment of food or your quality of life, contact your doctor.