Disclaimer: This webpage is for information purpose only and is neither intended to be used as self-diagnostic tool nor to be considered in place of a qualified doctor's diagnosis/advise. Each patient's case is unique and treatment will depend on your physician's discretion.


Swallowing is a complex act that involves coordinated movement of muscles that make up three primary phases of the swallow: oral phase (mouth), pharyngeal phase (throat) and esophageal phase (food tube). When there is a problem in one or more of these phases, it is called dysphagia.

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.

General signs may include:

  • coughing during or right after eating or drinking
  • wet or gurgly sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
  • extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow
  • food or liquid leaking from the mouth or getting stuck in the mouth
  • recurring pneumonia or chest congestion after eating
  • weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat enough

As a result, adults may have:

  • poor nutrition or dehydration
  • risk of aspiration (food or liquid entering the airway), which can lead to pneumonia and chronic lung disease
  • less enjoyment of eating or drinking
  • embarrassment or isolation in social situations involving eating

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.Some causes of feeding and swallowing disorders in adults are problems affecting the head and neck, including cancer in the mouth, throat, or esophagus, injury or surgery involving the head and neck, decayed or missing teeth, or poorly fitting dentures and damage to the nervous system, such as:

    • stroke
    • brain injury
    • spinal cord injury
    • Parkinson's disease
    • multiple sclerosis
    • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease)
    • muscular dystrophy
    • cerebral palsy
    • Alzheimer's disease

People with a swallowing disorder can experience trouble forming food and liquid into a soft ball in the mouth, a need for extra time to chew or move food or liquid in the mouth, trouble pushing food or liquid to the back of the mouth, food or liquid entering the airway when swallowing causing coughing or throat clearing, choking, a sticking sensation in the throat after a swallow, trouble with food entering the esophagus, feeling food stick in the throat or chest after a swallow, regurgitation, and reflux.

Swallowing disorder patients often undergo a swallowing test to observe how they swallow with a flexible scope in the nose, or with x-rays of your neck and chest while the patient swallows.Some swallowing problems may be treatable with medication or surgery. Depending upon your working diagnosis, your doctor will discuss different treatment options available.