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Understanding dysphagia

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can affect a person's ability to eat and drink. Here are important facts to know about treating and living with this condition.

June 03, 2024

Understanding dysphagia

When you sit down for a meal or take a sip of coffee, you likely don’t think twice about swallowing. For many people, these actions to drink and eat happen naturally without much effort. But for some, swallowing is difficult and at times painful. This condition is known as dysphagia. It can have serious effects on a person’s overall health and well-being.

When you swallow, 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves work together. They move food from your mouth, down your throat and into your stomach. Some medical conditions, like certain forms of cancer, affect this function. Other examples are:

  • Brain disorders including Parkinson’s disease
  • Muscle disorders like muscular dystrophy
  • Obstructions
  • Infections

Anyone can experience dysphagia, but it’s more common among older adults.

Types of dysphagia

Each type of dysphagia affects a different part of the body. There are  three types that affect swallowing:

  1. Oral cavity dysphagia — When there are problems in the mouth. In this type, strokes can weaken the tongue and affect chewing.
  2. Oropharyngeal dysphagia — Problems are centered on the throat. This can be due to muscular or neurological issues.
  3. Esophageal dysphagia — Caused by muscular disorders or something presses on the throat.

Problems caused by dysphagia

Depending on how severe this condition is, it can cause:

  • Pain
  • Heartburn
  • Choking
  • Gagging

Malnutrition and staying at a healthy weight may be an issue. This is because eating and drinking is affected.

For those with a swallowing disorder, it can affect their mental health. People may feel angry or sad. They may find mealtimes stressful. Some may avoid social outings because of their condition. The good news is there are ways to treat dysphagia. Adjusting the texture of meals can help. It can make eating and drinking safer and more enjoyable.

Treatment for dysphagia

Treatments for dysphagia include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery
  • Medications

Trying certain head positions can also help make swallowing easier. Lifestyle changes can help treat this condition. The following can help boost nutrition intake:

  • Having smaller meals
  • Eating smaller bites and chewing thoroughly
  • Thickening or thinning liquids as needed
  • Avoiding sticky foods that cause swallowing problems
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake because they can dry out the mouth and throat

To improve the safety of food and liquids for people with dysphagia:

  • Drinks are classified by their thickness and are assigned to a level between 0 and 4
  • Foods range from liquidized (level 3) to regular and easy to chew (level 7)

Mom’s Meals® can help

dysphagia whitepaper

Free brochure offers tips

Learn more about dysphagia and get helpful tips in our brochure Managing your Dysphagia with Nutrition. Making diet changes and seeking other treatment options can help. Getting the proper nutrition can help people dealing with dysphagia live a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Choose from our delicious pureed menu options

All meals have been designed to meet the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics requirement for Dysphagia (Level 1 - Pureed Nutritional Therapy). Our ready-to-heat-and-eat pureed meals are also intended to meet the guidelines of level 4 — pureed of the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative guidelines.