Dysphagia and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are two health conditions that have been linked together in recent years. Although dysphagia is primarily a swallowing disorder, it has been shown to impact the esophagus and increase the risk for complications, such as GERD. In this article, we look at how dysphagia and GERD are related, how one affects the other, and what measures can be taken to reduce symptoms of both conditions.

What Is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that affects about 15 million people in the United States alone. It occurs when there is difficulty moving food or liquids from the mouth to the stomach due to a disruption in muscle control or coordination. 

Common causes of dysphagia include stroke, nerve damage, brain injury, neurological diseases, neuromuscular diseases or disorders of muscles or nerves in the head and neck area. Symptoms of dysphagia may include:

  • Coughing while eating or drinking.
  • Choking on food time after time.
  • Feeling like your throat is blocked after eating or drinking even if you don’t choke on it initially.
  • Pain while swallowing food or liquid.
  • Having difficulty controlling saliva buildup in your mouth and throat when eating.
  • Feeling like food gets stuck in your throat sometimes when you swallow during meals.

What Is GERD?

GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and damage to its lining. This can lead to severe chest pain (heartburn), nausea, bloating and gas as well as difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe distress depending on the severity of each individual case.

How Are Dysphagia & GERD Connected?

The link between GERD and dysphagia isn’t completely understood yet but it appears that they both share common pathways that cause them both to develop or worsen simultaneously. The primary mechanism thought to explain this connection involves pressure changes within the body during swallowing which increases pressure along the gastrointestinal tract known as “intraluminal pressure”. 

When intraluminal pressures become too high due to weakened sphincter muscles around the lower part of esophagus, it can cause some contents present inside the body cavity (including liquid contents of stomach acids, gases, etc.) to leak out through the sphincter, leading directly back into the esophagus because its not able close off perfectly anymore, which causes GERD development. 

How Can Treatment Help These Conditions?

Both dysphagia and GERD have treatments available that help manage their symptoms and improve a person’s quality of life overall. For dysphagia sufferers, treatments vary depending on what caused their condition, such as physical therapy exercises, or medications aimed at decreasing inflammation, which will help with muscle control or coordination problems associated with dysphagia. 

Medications such as proton pump inhibitors may also be recommended for those suffering from reflux/GERD as they reduce stomach acid production and the risk of developing any further complications such as an ulcer. Additionally, lifestyle changes suggested by a doctor such as regular exercise, using food thickeners like SimplyThick honey consistency, avoiding spicy foods, sleeping elevated using extra pillows, etc., all play important roles in helping reduce symptoms associated with these two health related issues.

Dysphagia and GERD are two health conditions linked together by common mechanisms used during swallowing which can increase the risk of developing either condition. 

By Manali

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