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. The tube is called the esophagus.

Esophagus and Stomach
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Esophageal dysphagia may be caused by:

  • Achalasia —food or drink doesn’t move toward the stomach as it should
  • Stroke , Parkinson disease , multiple sclerosis , or Huntington disease
  • Narrowing— esophageal stricture
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Inflammation—esophagitis

Risk Factors

Your chances of esophageal dysphagia are higher for:

  • Having any of the problems listed above
  • Aging
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Cancer treatment
  • Prior surgery
  • Premature birth
  • Taking certain medicines



Common symptoms:

  • 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 health history.

You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • A test to look for problems while you swallow
  • An upper GI endoscopy —a scope is used to look at the structures from the back of the throat to the stomach
  • A barium swallow
  • 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
  • Therapy—this will teach to swallow without choking
  • Medicines—to treat any causes, relax muscles, or reduce acid


The best way to prevent esophageal dysphagia is to treat what’s causing it.

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.