Dysphagia is a medical term that means that a patient has difficulty swallowing. There are a number of different conditions that can cause dysphagia. And someone who suffers from dysphagia often finds that it makes life very difficult. Depending on their condition, swallowing can be very painful, which makes eating and getting enough nutrition a challenge.
And what’s even more alarming is that many people with fibromyalgia report having problems with dysphagia.
So, what are some of the things that can cause dysphagia? Is there a link between the condition and fibromyalgia? And what can you do to treat it?
What Causes Dysphagia?
There are a number of different things that can cause dysphagia. Anything that interferes with the complex system of nerves and muscles that control the esophagus can make swallowing difficult. But some of the most common causes are:
- Achalasia– a condition that causes the muscles in the esophagus to constrict.
- Diffuse Spasm– a condition where the muscles spasm uncontrollably, usually after swallowing.
- Esophageal Stricture– a narrowing of the opening of the esophagus caused by scar tissue or tumors.
- Gastro-Intestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)– The gradual destruction of the tissue in the esophagus caused by acid from the stomach washing up into the esophagus.
Dysphagia can also occur without any obvious source. But whatever the cause, the symptoms are often similar. The most commons symptoms are difficulty swallowing, pain in the throat, frequent heartburn, a hoarse voice, and regurgitating food you’ve already eaten.
In most cases, dysphagia isn’t dangerous. But it can lead to dramatic weight loss and can be life-threatening if it causes you to regurgitate food into the lungs.
And while we don’t always know what causes the condition, we do know that it is abnormally common in people with fibromyalgia.
Dysphagia And Fibromyalgia
A study by the National Institute of Health in the United States determined that a significant number of patients with fibromyalgia reported problems with swallowing. Patients in the study reported suffering from dysphagia at a rate 40% higher than people without fibromyalgia.
Unfortunately, the reason this sort of symptom is common in people with fibromyalgia remains a mystery. There’s so much that we don’t know about how fibromyalgia works, including why it would cause dysphagia. But we can speculate on a number of possibilities.
People with fibromyalgia often experience muscle weakness. This weakness could explain why they suffer from dysphagia. The muscles that control the process of swallowing may be affected by the general weakness caused by fibromyalgia.
In addition, we know that people with fibromyalgia have problems with their nervous system. An NIH study found that patients with fibro had significantly more neurological abnormalities than a control group. If fibromyalgia is a condition that affects the nervous system, as many doctors suggest it is, then it could be causing a breakdown between the nerves that control the esophagus and the brain.
This would explain why people with fibromyalgia have a hard time swallowing. Their brain can’t control the muscles in the esophagus as it normally would. But until we know more about the condition, we can’t say for sure what the link is.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to treat the condition.
The first step in treatment is a diagnosis. The most common way to diagnose the condition is with an imaging test, like a barium X-ray. Essentially, the patient drinks a contrast material – barium- which coats the esophagus and makes it easier to see on the X-ray. The doctor can then examine the image to see if your esophagus is expanding correctly. And this examination can also be done with an endoscopic camera.
Your treatment will depend on what’s causing the condition. If the condition is caused by weakened muscles, there are a number of exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles. And you can learn different swallowing techniques to compensate for the weakened muscles. Your doctor will be able to advise you on what to do.
If the treatment is caused by muscle constriction in the esophagus, there are a number of medications that can help relax the muscles. In addition, a surgeon can perform a procedure to dilate the muscles and force them to relax. Finally, a surgeon can remove portions of the esophagus to widen the space for food to pass through.
If you’re experiencing difficulties swallowing, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor. They will be able to give you advice on the best course of treatment.