Why Am I Having Trouble
Swallowing? --- Causes and Top 10
Natural Remedies
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October 22, 2012
By Alison Turner, Featured Columnist


Do you have trouble swallowing? Swallowing may seem easy
but in fact, it is a complex action. Did you know that every time
you swallow there are 50 pairs of muscles and nerves at
work?   That may be why the American Speech-Language-
Hearing Association deems swallowing as “one of the most
complex neuromuscular interactions in the human body,”  and
why as high as 22% of Americans over the age of 50 suffer
from swallowing problems and an estimated 10 million
Americans total are evaluated every year for swallowing
difficulties.  

The technical term for problems with swallowing is dysphagia,
which is classified as either oropharyngeal (when the problem
occurs in the passage from the mouth to the esophagus) or
esophageal (when the problem occurs in the esophagus). What
causes problems with swallowing? Are there any natural
remedies to make swallowing easier?

Causes of Swallowing Problems

How does dysphagia happen?  People get dysphagia from a
variety of causes, some of which are more surprising than
others.  The problem may result from a physical block in the
esophagus, such as from a tumor or lesion from a traumatic
injury; or, some of the muscles involved may be weakened,
spasm involuntarily, or become too narrowed for large pieces
of food to pass; or, the problem could be neurological, such as
from stroke, brain injury, or conditions such as Parkinson’s or
multiple sclerosis.  In some cases, the cause behind the
dysphagia cannot be diagnosed.

What can we do about it?  Treatment for dysphagia varies just
as greatly as the causes of the condition.  Treatment ranges
from changing the texture of food that you eat, to medication,
to surgery, to special exercises designed to strengthen the
muscles involved in swallowing.  

Below is a list of ten of the more common causes of dysphagia
that are being investigated by researchers from all over the
world, as well as techniques to reduce your risk for and/or to
treat dysphagia.




























1. Do you have a food allergy?  It could be to blame for
dysphagia.

How many people do you know with a peanut allergy?  How
about tomato?  Shellfish?  Food allergies are estimated to affect
6 to 8% of young children and 3 to 4% of adults in the U.S. –
and these numbers seem to be growing.  Another condition
increasing alongside food allergies is eosinophilic esophagitis, a
term that needs a bit more introduction than “food allergies.”

Eosinophilic esophagitis is a condition in which an
overpopulation of cells (the “eosinophils”) gather in the
esophagus, and cause problems in swallowing.    A study
published in 2007 by Dr. Jonathan Spergel with The Children’s
Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues,  found that the
number of new EE (eosinophilic esophagitis) patients increases
every year, with 68% of cases in people 6 years old younger,
and that the most common symptoms are reflux problems and
feeding issues.  

In 2010, Dr. Sandra Hong with the Respiratory Institute at the
Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Nicola Vogel with the Allergy Associates
of New Hampshire,  joined forces to investigate the relationship
between the increasing prevalence of food allergies, and the
similarly increase of eosinophilic esophagitis.  The Drs. explain
that food allergy symptoms can vary from “life threatening” to
“delayed symptoms,” a category into which they place
eosinophilic esophagitis.  They observe that “most patients”
with eosinophilic esophagitis “respond to allergen-free diets,”
so that evaluation by a specialist in allergy is recommended.  

If you have problems swallowing, the answer to your problem
could be what you’re swallowing: consider getting tested for
food allergies as soon as possible.

2. Dysphagia and GERD: you might have to go gluten-free.  

Have you ever had heart burn?  The more serious condition of
heart burn is known as
gastro esophageal reflux disease
(GERD), a condition in which stomach acid backs up into the
esophagus, potentially leading to scarring or narrowing of the
esophagus, which could make swallowing difficult.    Recent
research from Argentina suggests that people with celiac
disease may have a way to prevent GERD: they could go gluten-
free.

In 2011, a large team of researchers led by Dr. C. Bonorino at
the Udaondo Gastroenterology Hospital in Buenos Aires,  
responded to how patients with celiac disease (CD) often show
symptoms consistent with gastro esophageal reflux disease
(GERD), and tested to see whether or not a gluten-free diet
helped ease symptoms of GERD.  The group observed 133 adult
patients with celiac disease, and saw that at diagnosis, "celiac
patients had a significantly higher reflux symptom mean score
than healthy controls," and that "a rapid improvement was
evidenced at 3 months after initial treatment with a [gluten-
free diet]," so much so that their new scores were on the GERD
scale were "comparable to healthy controls."  The team
concludes that gastro esophageal reflux disease symptoms are
indeed "common" in untreated patients with celiac disease, and
that a gluten-free diet is "associated with a rapid and persistent
improvement in reflux symptoms that resembles the healthy
population."

If you have celiac disease and have noticed problems
swallowing or acid reflux (heart burn), consider researching
gluten-free diet.  Though it may be hard to take a break from
some of your favorite foods, your esophagus will thank you.

3.  Have GERD but can’t (don’t want to) go gluten-free?  Focus
on healthy weight.

What if you suffer from GERD but don't have celiac disease
(see above), or simply can't manage a gluten-free diet?  Recent
research suggests that gastro esophageal reflux disease may
be warded off with a healthy life style, including healthy diet
and exercise habits.

In 2009, David Festi with the Department of Clinical Medicine at
the University of Bologna and other researchers,  reviewed
relevant literature on obesity, dietary habits, physical activity,
and GERD all the way back to the year of 1999.  They noticed
that obesity, “in particular, abdominal obesity,” “plays a key
role” in GERD symptoms, and that weight loss – by diet or
surgery – effectively improved these symptoms.  Moderate
physical activity, too, “seems to be beneficial for GERD.”  The
team concludes that obesity and GERD-specific symptoms are
“related,” and that weight loss “significantly” improves these
symptoms.  

If you’re having problems swallowing food or liquid, it may be
because you have GERD: if you don’t think it’s necessary to see
a doctor, try exercising and keeping off the extra weight before
taking more extensive (and expensive) measures.

4.  S
trokes Cause Problems Swallowing

Have you or someone you know recently suffered a stroke, and
now, amongst all the other effects, is it more difficult to
swallow than it’s ever been before.  If so, you or your loved
one is not alone: dysphagia is a common symptom in patients
who have recently suffered stroke.  (Read more about
mini-
strokes and how they can cause problems swallowing.)

In 2004, a team of experts with the Stroke Unit in the
Department of Neuroscience at the University of Perugia, in
Italy, including M. Paciaroni,  looked into the prevalence of
dysphagia (problems swallowing) after stroke.  Examination of
406 patients who had suffered acute stroke for the first time,
revealed that nearly 35% suffered from dysphagia, and that
dysphagia was more frequent in patients with hemorrhagic
stroke.  From three month follow up of these patients, the
researchers found that “stroke mortality and disability were
independently associated with dysphagia,” so much so that
clinically determined dysphagia after stroke “was a significant
variable predicting death and disability at 90 days.”

If you are experiencing dysphagia after stroke, make sure to
make this clear to your health care provider: as the above
study shows, dysphagia could be a sign of more health troubles
to come.

5.
The Dysphagia Diet After Stroke: Eat (or Drink) It!

Continue reading  page 1        page 2







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Allergies to nuts and other foods can cause trouble swallowing.