Conditions & Investigations

Swallowing difficulties

Swallowing difficulties

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties, either in relation to food or liquids. There are various causes of dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) – however medical advice should be sought as soon as possible, because some of the causes of dysphagia can be serious.

Signs or symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • a sensation that food is stuck in the throat or chest
  • Pain on swallowing

Over time, dysphagia can also cause symptoms such as weight loss and repeated chest infections. Dysphagia is usually caused by another health condition, such as: 

  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (heartburn) where stomach acid comes back up into the oesophagus     
  • Oeosophageal or gastric (stomach) cancer 

What tests are needed for dysphagia?

After a careful history and examination, you will often have blood tests performed to look for evidence of anaemia. The commonest test that is performed for dysphagia is an endcoposy, to examine the lining of the oesophagus and stomach. Occasionally, a barium swallow is also performed – this is an X-ray test where pictures are taken of barium that is swallowed to examine the motility of the oesophagus.