Esophageal Dysphagia



Dysphagia is a problem that happens when you swallow. It’s hard to get food down the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach.

Esophagus and Stomach
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Esophageal dysphagia is caused by damage or disease of the throat. :

  • Achalasia—food or drink doesn’t move toward the stomach as it should
  • Damage to nervous system that affects how muscles in the throat work
  • Narrowing of the throat— esophageal stricture
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Inflammation—esophagitis

Risk Factors

Factors that increase the risk of esophageal dysphagia include:

  • Any of the problems listed above
  • Injury or illness of nervous system such as:
    • Stroke
    • Parkinson disease
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Huntington disease
  • Older age
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Cancer treatment—current or previous
  • Prior surgery
  • Premature birth
  • Certain medicine



Common symptoms include:

  • Having a hard time when you swallow
  • A feeling of food being stuck
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Regurgitation
  • Drooling, coughing, choking
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Problems getting enough fluids or nutrition


You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will run tests to find out what is causing swallowing problems. Tests may include:

  • A test to look for problems while you swallow
  • An upper GI endoscopy—a scope is used to view throat from back of mouth to the stomach
  • A barium swallow—x-ray that uses a special dye to highlight throat
  • Tests on the muscles of the esophagus



Treatment depends on the cause. You may need:

  • Esophageal dilation —making the esophagus wider where it narrows
  • Surgery—to treat GERD or take out something that is blocking the path
  • Dietary changes such as:
    • Not eating foods that cause problems
    • Eating softer or pureed foods
    • Using a feeding tube if needed
  • Speech therapy—this will teach you to swallow without choking
  • Medicines—to treat specific causes, relax muscles, or reduce acid


There are not steps to prevent esophageal dysphagia.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Difficulty Swallowing [Esophagus])


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 

Dysphagia Research Society 


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada 

Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist 


Dysphagia. Cedars-Sinai website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.

Dysphagia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  . Updated March 21, 2017. August 14, 2018.

Dysphagia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Updated April 2018. Accessed August 14, 2018.

Swallowing disorders in adults. American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2018.