Patients who have dysphagia have trouble swallowing. Some may even have pain while swallowing. Some patients may be completely unable to swallow, while others may have difficulty swallowing certain things safely. When someone has dysphagia, it can make eating and drinking difficult. This can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and being unable to take important medications.
It is estimated that 15% – 20% of people over 50 have the disorder. Additionally, it is estimated that 40% – 60% of people in nursing homes or assisted living have it. This means that more people are at risk as they get older. This can be especially risky for those taking important medication. In fact, 69% of older patients admit to not taking medications because of swallowing difficulties.
Dysphagia is caused when there’s a problem with any of the structures involved in swallowing. Additionally, it may be cause by problems with the nervous system. These problems can include weak cheek or tongue muscles, a stroke, and certain esophageal disorders. Certain birth conditions can cause dysphagia as well, such as a cleft palette, narrow esophagus, and other swallowing disorders.
Who Is At Risk?
Dysphagia is found most frequently in older adults and seniors. These patients tend to be at risk for conditions that weaken the nervous system and muscles, causing the swallowing disorder. These conditions include a stoke, dementia, and Parkinson’s Disease.
Younger patients with the disorder tends to be linked to certain birth defects or abnormalities. These include a cleft palette, cerebral palsy, and a narrow esophagus.
Additionally, dysphagia can be found in patients of all ages with certain illnesses or injuries. Head injuries may cause cognitive problems or damage the swallowing mechanisms. Cancers of the head, neck, or esophagus may cause problems. The treatment for these different types of cancers may cause dysphagia as well.
Who Can Help?
Dysphagia symptoms can be sudden or gradual. If you or someone you know is having difficulty swallowing, contact your physician. From there, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist or a neurologist.
You can learn more about dysphagia here.