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What Causes Swallowing Problems?

Have you experienced recurring problems swallowing? You probably suffer from a condition known as dysphagia. Normally the process of swallowing involves three stages. But with dysphagia, there may be abnormalities occurring at any of these stages.

In the first stage of swallowing, the tongue assists in controlling movement of the mouth. This control allows us to chew with ease as the food is softened with our saliva. Once ready to swallow, the tongue shifts from food movement control to initiating propelling the food to the back of the mouth. That’s when the second stage begins.

Swallowing in its second phase involves an automatic reflex, which propels the food down to the esophagus. There is a muscular valve that opens up to allow food to enter through this swallowing tube while the same valve blocks the food from getting inside the trachea, which leads to the lungs.

The final stage of swallowing begins when the food enters the esophagus. Through a series of muscular contractions, the food is pushed down through the entire length of the esophagus and down into the stomach. Once the food reaches the junction at the end of the esophagus and the beginning of the stomach, another muscular valve opens up to allow the food to enter the stomach. Once the food enters, the valve closes again.

With dysphagia, there are irregularities in the nerves or muscles that affect the proper coordination needed to achieve normal swallowing. These abnormalities may be triggered by a variety of causes:

  • Neurologic disorders, resulting from stroke, Parkinson’s disease, head injury, multiple sclerosis or stroke
  • Muscular dysfunction, which includes dermatomyositis, scleroderma, muscular dystrophy
  • Diseases specific to esophageal movement, like achalasia, spasms or eosinophilic esophagitis

 

Anatomical irregularities, tumors and obstructions in the digestive tract may also cause dysphagia.

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