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5 Treatment Options for Dysphagia

A physician smiles as she discusses effective treatment options for dysphagia with an elderly man and woman

With over 50 muscles and nerves involved during the act of swallowing, problems sometimes occur that inhibit this process.1 This swallowing challenge, know as dysphagia, can be a very serious issue but, when properly diagnosed, is often treatable by a physician and/or Speech Language Pathologist (SLP).2

The type of treatment prescribed for dysphagia depends on whether the swallowing difficulty occurs in the mouth or throat (known as oropharyngeal or high dysphagia), or in the esophagus, the passageway that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (known as oesophageal or low dysphagia).3

Here are a few treatment options for dysphagia which have proven effective for some patients.4

  1. When dysphagia is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it can usually be successfully treated with medications prescribed by your physician.5
  2. When dysphagia is caused by a motility disorder (when the esophageal muscle is squeezing, resulting in swallowing issues), the condition may be treated by: stretching narrowed passages with dilation; inserting a plastic or metal stent; and/or injecting Botox (onabotulinumtoxin) into the lower section of the esophagus.6
  3. When dysphagia is caused specifically by a neurological disorder such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, many patients effectively cope with dysphagia challenges by practicing swallowing exercises and techniques prescribed by their health care professional.7
  4. When dysphagia symptoms do not respond to medications and/or physical therapies, surgery may be required. Minimally invasive procedures include: Laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter to help prevent acid reflux in the esophagus; Laparoscopic Heller myotomy, a procedure in which an incision is made into a muscle in the lower end of the esophagus to help food be released into the stomach; and Laryngeal suspension surgery, in which the voice box is lifted and suspended to improve swallowing capabilities.8
  5. When dysphagia patients do not respond to or are not a candidate for any of the treatments or therapies listed above, the insertion of feeding tube may be required to ensure the patient receives adequate nutrition.9

Knowledge is the best remedy for treating dysphagia. If you are challenged by this swallowing disorder, be sure to consult with your health care professional(s) for treatment options based on your specific needs.10

  1. McQuaid KR. Gastrointestinal disorders. In: McPhee SJ, et al., eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2011. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Medical Companies; 2011. Accessed Sept. 8, 2011.
  2. Mendelson MH. Esophageal emergencies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and swallowed foreign bodies. In: Tintinall JE, et al., eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Medical Companies; 2011. Accessed Sept. 8, 2011.
  3. Garcia JM. Managing dysphagia through diet modifications. American Journal of Nursing. 2010;110:26.
  4. Swallowing trouble. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
  5. Dysphagia. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Roman S, Lin Z, Kwiatek MA, Pandolfino JE, Kahrilas PJ. Weak peristalsis in esophageal pressure topography: classification and association with dysphagia. Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106: 349–56.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Morgan AT, Dodrill P, Ward EC. Interventions for oropharyngeal dysphagia in children with neurological impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Oct 17;10:CD009456. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009456.pub2.
  10. Ibid.

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