Dysphagia is defined as difficulty in swallowing and may occur in those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Symptoms vary in each person which include difficulty in swallowing solid food but no trouble with fluids. Conversely, swallowing liquids may become increasingly difficult even one’s own saliva but taking in solids isn’t a problem.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Choking
  • Coughing
  • Gurgling or regurgitating food or stomach acids
  • Feeling that food is stuck behind your breastbone
  • Burning sensation behind your breastbone (a classic sign of heartburn)
  • Hoarseness

Symptoms may act up when you consume foods that are common triggers for acid reflux, such as:

  • Tomato-based products
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint


Your doctor will likely perform a physical examination and may use a variety of tests to determine the cause of your swallowing problem.

Tests may include:

  • X-ray with a contrast material (barium X-ray).
  • Dynamic swallowing study.
  • A visual examination of your esophagus (endoscopy).
  • Fiber-optic endoscopic swallowing evaluation (FEES).
  • Esophageal muscle test (manometry).
  • Imaging scans. These may include a CT scan, an MRI scan, or a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.



Medication is one of the first line treatments for dysphagia related to reflux. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are medications that reduce stomach acids and relieve symptoms of GERD and heal erosion of the esophagus caused by reflux.

PPI drugs include:

  • Esomeprazole
  • Lansoprazole
  • Omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • Pantoprazole
  • Rabeprazole

Proton pump inhibitors are usually taken once a day.

Lifestyle Changes

Eliminating alcoholic beverages and nicotine products use as they can irritate your already compromised esophagus and they can increase the likelihood of symptoms such as heartburn.

Small meals frequently instead of three large meals daily. A soft or liquid diet may be prescribed until your esophagus heals adequately. Avoidance of sticky foods, such as jam or peanut butter, and cutting of food into small pieces is also advised.


Usually done in cases of severe dysphagia that is unresponsive to medication and lifestyle changes. These procedures include:

  • Fundoplication
  • Endoscopic procedures
  • Esophageal dilation
  • Partial removal of the esophagus

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