Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) means it takes more time and effort to move food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Dysphagia may also be associated with pain. In some cases, swallowing may be impossible.

Occasional difficulty swallowing, which may occur when you eat too fast or don't chew your food well enough, usually isn't cause for concern. But persistent dysphagia may indicate a serious medical condition requiring treatment.

Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it's more common in older adults. The causes of swallowing problems vary, and treatment depends on the cause.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms associated with dysphagia may include:

  • Having pain while swallowing (odynophagia)
  • Being unable to swallow
  • Having the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest or behind your breastbone (sternum)
  • Drooling
  • Being hoarse
  • Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
  • Having frequent heartburn
  • Having food or stomach acid back up into your throat
  • Unexpectedly losing weight
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing
  • Having to cut food into smaller pieces or avoiding certain foods because of trouble swallowing

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you regularly have difficulty swallowing or if weight loss, regurgitation or vomiting accompanies your dysphagia.

If an obstruction interferes with breathing, call for emergency help immediately. If you're unable to swallow because you feel that the food is stuck in your throat or chest, go to the nearest emergency department.

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