Dysphagia is a problem that happens when you swallow. It’s hard to get food down the tube that goes from the mouth to the stomach. The tube is called the esophagus.

Esophagus and Stomach

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Esophageal dysphagia may be caused by:

Risk Factors

Your chances of esophageal dysphagia are higher for:


Common symptoms:

  • Having a hard time when you swallow
  • A feeling of food being stuck
  • Pain when you swallow
  • Regurgitation
  • Drooling, coughing, choking
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Problems getting enough fluids or nutrition


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history.

You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • A test to look for problems while you swallow
  • An upper GI endoscopy—a scope is used to look at the structures from the back of the throat to the stomach
  • A barium swallow
  • Tests on the muscles of the esophagus


Treatment depends on the cause. You may need:

  • Esophageal dilation—making the esophagus wider where it narrows
  • Surgery—to treat GERD or take out something that is blocking the path
  • Dietary changes such as:
    • Not eating foods that cause problems
    • Eating softer or pureed foods
    • Using a feeding tube if needed
  • Therapy—this will teach to swallow without choking
  • Medicines—to treat any causes, relax muscles, or reduce acid


The best way to prevent esophageal dysphagia is to treat what’s causing it.