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Swallowing Problems

Dysphagia is the medical term for difficult or abnormal swallowing. 

There are many different causes of difficulty swallowing, many of which are benign, but it is an alarming symptom that should be investigated. With the appropriate testing, an explanation can almost always be found.

At The Heartburn & Swallowing Center, we have more than 20 years of experience diagnosing and treating swallowing disorders. We take a fully integrated approach in the care and management of a broad spectrum of esophageal disorders. We develop a custom treatment plan for each patient that prioritizes what will yield the best result for you based on your specific condition and symptoms. Learn more about Dr. Graybeal and call us today if you are experiencing difficulty with swallowing: 770-219-9200.

How Does Swallowing Work?

The act of swallowing is a complex process that involves both involuntary and voluntary actions of muscles and nerves.  To understand what can go wrong with swallowing, it helps to understand what happens during a swallow. 

Swallowing occurs in two different phases: the (1) transfer, or oropharyngeal phase, and the (2) transport, or esophageal phase. Difficulty swallowing may be a result of issues in either of these phases.

Oropharyngeal Dysphagia

The first phase of swallowing involves the transfer of food or liquid from the mouth to the throat.  If someone has difficulty during this portion of swallowing, they may have difficulty starting or initiating a swallow.  Difficulty with swallowing occurs immediately when a swallow begins and patients often complain of coughing, choking, and aspiration with meals.  Patients tend to have more trouble swallowing liquids and thinner consistencies over solid foods.

Esophageal Dysphagia

Once the first phase of swallowing is complete and the food or liquid has successfully been transferred to the muscular esophageal tube, the involuntary portion of swallowing begins.  A muscular wave propels foods and liquids downward to the entrance to the stomach where a muscle at the lower end of the esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter), often referred to as a “valve”, relaxes and allows food and liquid to enter the stomach.  There are several things that can go wrong while food is transported down the esophagus. 

Food or liquid may feel like it stops or drains slowly from the esophagus.  This sensation may occur because something is keeping it from entering the stomach like a stricture (narrowing), mass, or muscle that is squeezing too tightly or at the wrong time.  The muscular waves of the esophagus that push swallowed food into the stomach might not be strong enough or coordinated enough to consistently clear the esophagus of swallowed food and liquid.  There are many causes of dysphagia, and it can usually be determined through a very focused evaluation, but often requires specialized testing.

Causes & Complications of Swallowing Problems

There are a variety of causes of dysphagia. As well, there are complications that can arise as a result of these cause:

​Featured Online Seminar

Watch a comprehensive and informative seminar given by Dr. Graybeal. For questions regarding GERD treatment with Dr. Graybeal, call 770-219-9200.

Have Questions? Call (770) 219-8400