What is Dysphagia?
Question: My child has CP and is having difficulty swallowing so I took her to the Doctor and he used the term Dysphagia. What is Dysphagia?
Answer: Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder. Swallowing disorders can occur in all age groups and result from congenital abnormalities, structural damage and/or medical conditions. It is often found in children who have neurological conditions. It is the medical term for the symptom of difficulty in swallowing. Although it is a symptom, the term is sometimes used as a condition in its own right. Difficulties can range from a total inability to swallow, to coughing or choking. In some neurological disorders, children may not be able to develop their swallowing reflex (a reflex that allows food and liquids to move safely through the throat). Food may get “stuck” in the throat or the child may drool because they cannot swallow their saliva. Weak tongue or cheek muscles may also make it hard to move food around in the mouth to chew or to close the mouth properly to help swallow. Weak throat muscles cannot move all of the food toward the stomach. Food pieces that are too large to swallow may enter the throat and block the passage of air. Food and liquids can go the wrong way into the lungs causing aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Dysphagia also often makes it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids. Undiagnosed, dysphagia can also result in dehydration, malnutrition, and renal failure. When asked where food gets stuck many children will often point to the neck region as the site of obstruction. The actual obstruction is always at, or below, the level at which the level of obstruction is perceived. There are a variety of treatments for various types of dysphagia including: muscle exercises to strengthen weak muscles, stretching and dilating narrow passages, and using thickeners. But, for some children, oral feeding/drinking may not be possible and their swallowing problems may require a feeding tube that bypasses the mouth and throat.
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2011 Magazine