Trouble Swallowing (Dysphagia)

There are many people in our communities who have difficulty swallowing solid foods.  It intermittently gets held up in the chest or upper stomach region, causing discomfort or actual pain.  Most patients learn to chew well, and wash their food down with fluids.  Some will stop eating the foods that cause the most problems, including meats, breads and vegetables.  It is usually due to a narrowing in the esophagus where the food gets stuck or slowed down when not extremely well chewed.  This is not normal.  If these symptoms have only begun recently (in the past 1-3 months) there is concern that this could be due to an esophageal cancer.  If the problems swallowing have been intermittent, but getting a little worse, it is most likely that there is an esophageal stricture (a narrowing).  This is usually due to current or past ulceration within the esophagus.  It can be treated with a combination of medication and dilation of the narrowing.

Usually a balloon can be passed through the gastroscope, and then inflated in the esophagus to stretch the narrowing.  The improvement in swallowing can occur immediately.  It may last for 6 months to many years, but often will recur in the future.  The long term treatment can also be assessed at the time of gastroscopy and esophageal cancer risk can be assessed and medical treatment given if required.  There is no reason for anyone to not seek medical treatment for this bothersome ad frightening problem.  The treatment is outpatient, doesn’t require preparation, is long lasting and is relatively safe.