Difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia, is a concerning problem with several different causes. Dysphagia can be thought of as either being due to a problem of swallowing in the area of the mouth or just behind it (the oropharyngeal section) or the rest of the esophagus. Mechanical issues that cause difficulty swallowing include strictures or esophageal webs/rings that may make it difficult for food to pass. The most worrisome mechanical cause of difficulty swallowing is the presence of esophageal cancer, the risk of which is increased with age, smoking/alcohol exposure, and chronic uncontrolled acid reflux
Motility issues that can cause difficulty swallowing include diffuse esophageal spasm or impaired relaxation of the esophageal sphincters. Spasm can be associated with chest pain, and the latter can lead to difficulty swallowing solids and liquids.
Given the wide range of causes of dysphagia, it is important that you seek out the help of your primary care doctor
. A simple test such as a barium swallow can help determine if there is any obstruction present. If needed, your primary care doctor can refer you to a gastroenterologist
, who can perform an upper endoscopy and visualize the inside of the esophagus.