group eating a meal

What is Dysphagia? An Explanation For Beginners

Think of your favorite dish… maybe it’s pizza, pasta, seafood, a perfect pastry, or an exceptional sandwich.  Now imagine, you can’t eat this food or any of your other favorite foods without significant modifications to the texture and arduous efforts to transform this food into a soft puree.  Unfortunately, that is the harsh reality that millions of men and women, young and old, face daily.  These individuals suffer from dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. 

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is estimated to impact a staggering 8% of the world’s population.1  In other words, 590 million people wake up every morning unable to enjoy foods that are vividly depicted on our television screens, city buses, and magazines.  Maybe you or someone you know is already all too familiar with this concept.

Dysphagia can be categorized into two main types:

  1. Oropharyngeal Dysphagia:This type of dysphagia originates in the mouth and throat. It can result from problems with muscle control, nerve function, or coordination of the swallowing process. People with oropharyngeal dysphagia might have difficulty initiating a swallow, moving food or liquids through the throat, or protecting the airway.
  2. Esophageal Dysphagia:This type of dysphagia is related to difficulties in the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Esophageal dysphagia can result from structural issues, such as narrowing or blockages in the esophagus, or problems with the movement of food and liquids down the esophagus.

Dysphagia can lead to complications, including malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration pneumonia (lung infection due to inhaled food or liquid). Management of dysphagia typically involves working with healthcare professionals to determine the underlying cause and develop strategies to make swallowing safer and more comfortable. It can be very challenging to take in adequate fluids and sustenance when having dysphagia. All the more reason, in certain cases, to be consuming a product with high caloric density, nutritional density and making it enjoyable or tasty as possible i.e. Naturally Thick Beverages. 

Common causes of dysphagia include neurological disorders (such as stroke, Parkinson's disease), muscular disorders (such as myasthenia gravis), structural abnormalities (such as strictures or tumors), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and aging-related changes in muscle function. 

1.       Cichero JA, Lam P, Steele CM, Hanson B, Chen J, Dantas RO, Duivestein J, Kayashita J, Lecko C, Murray J, Pillay M, Riquelme L, Stanschus S. Development of International Terminology and Definitions for Texture-Modified Foods and Thickened Fluids Used in Dysphagia Management: The IDDSI Framework. Dysphagia. 2017 Apr;32(2):293-314.
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