Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)

This information is useful for adults and older adults
A young man experiencing dysphagia stands in an exam room holding his chest.

For most, swallowing is an automatic process that takes place countless times every day with little thought. However, the process of swallowing is actually an extremely complicated and coordinated process. Moving food from the mouth through the esophagus and down to the stomach involves about 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves working in concert.

Dysphagia is the medical term used to describe swallowing difficulties. Some people with dysphagia experience pain while swallowing, known as odynophagia. In particularly severe cases, a person with dysphagia may not be able to safely swallow solids, liquids, or even their own saliva. Some can’t swallow anything at all. It becomes a challenge to ingest enough calories and fluids to keep the body healthy and avoid medical problems including the danger of choking and aspiration.

At Yale Medicine, our Gastrointestinal Motility Program focuses on diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the digestive tract, including dysphagia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastroparesis (when the stomach can’t empty food properly), constipation, and fecal incontinence.

Our team includes gastroenterologists, surgeons, pathologists and radiologists who work together to manage even the most difficult-to-diagnose disorders. “We treat these as quality-of-life issues,” says Yale Medicine’s Amir Masoud, MD. “To help patients feel better is its own reward.”