Swallowing of food and fluid involves the coordination of multiple nerves (from the brain to the neck and chest) and the muscles of the mouth, throat (pharynx) and food pipe (oesophagus).
This complex process occurs hundreds to thousands of times each day. When everything is working well, it results in the successful transport of food and fluid from the mouth to the stomach in a minute or less.
Symptoms that can arise when there is a disorder of swallowing can include:
Sensation that food or fluid is getting stuck or held up in the throat or chest
Regurgitation (throwing up) of food or fluid
Chest pain, burning or discomfort
How can the cause of impaired swallowing be determined?
Traditionally, swallowing disorders have been difficult to manage due to poor diagnostic tools. Patients were often told they had to live with their symptoms. However the last decade has seen a revolution in diagnostic technology so that in the majority of cases, a clear diagnosis can be made:
Endoscopy, to check for structural disorders in the oesophagus (food pipe)
Barium swallow, in which x-rays are taken while the patient ingests contrast material
High-resolution manometry, measuring the pattern of contraction, relaxation and pressure formation in the oesophagus during swallowing
What can be done if there is a problem with swallowing?
A Gastroenterologist with expertise in swallowing disorders is best placed to evaluate patients with these problems as they are able to perform and interpret all the relevant investigations. After making a diagnosis, the specialist can offer a variety of effective treatment options - from medications and endoscopic (non surgical) treatments all the way through to surgery.