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Swallowing problems are treatable: How gastroenterologists help

March 08, 2022

Gastroenterology Primary Care Healthy Aging
Young woman drinking water

Swallowing problems include choking or coughing while eating or after eating, feeling like food gets stuck in your throat or esophagus (the tube that connects your throat to your stomach), and pain when swallowing. The medical term for difficulty swallowing is dysphagia. If you have difficulty swallowing on a regular basis, it might be a symptom of a medical condition that needs treatment.

“Dysphagia that happens frequently and causes regurgitation, is painful, leads to weight loss or makes it nearly impossible to swallow is a symptom of something,” says Ashan Manohar, M.D., a board-certified, fellowship trained gastroenterologist with Riverside. “A doctor should diagnose and treat it to prevent complications.”

In some cases, dysphagia benefits from the specialty care of a gastroenterologist. This is especially true in cases of esophageal dysphasia (when it feels like food gets stuck in your esophagus). Examples of conditions that can cause esophageal dysphasia include eosinophilic esophagitis, motility disorders and Barrett’s esophagus.

“Your primary care provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist — a specialist who’s trained in how to most effectively diagnose and treat these types of swallowing problems,” Dr. Manohar  says.

Gastroenterologists help find the exact cause of a swallowing problem.

Dysphasia isn’t a condition in and of itself. Rather, it’s a symptom. Because many conditions can cause a person to have difficulty swallowing, it helps to have a doctor who has access to the latest diagnostic tests. Gastroenterologists have these tools.

In addition to providing access to the best diagnostic tests, gastroenterologists have experience interpreting the results to determine a diagnosis. They also work closely with otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors) and speech-language pathologists who likewise specialize in diagnosing dysphagia.

“This is important because an accurate diagnosis leads to the most efficient treatment,” explains Dr. Manohar.

Gastroenterologists are trained to provide the best care for even the most difficult swallowing problems.

Treatment for a swallowing problem depends on the condition that’s causing it as well as the severity of the symptoms. Treatment options include medicine, speech therapy and surgery.

Whether you have mild or severe dysphagia, a gastroenterologist can manage your treatment.

Some of the reasons gastroenterologists are able to provide optimal care for dysphagia include:

  • They see more patients with difficulty swallowing, giving them the experience needed to plan the best treatment.
  • Their specialized knowledge of medicines for swallowing problems helps them prescribe the best available medicines at the most accurate doses.
  • When a patient needs speech therapy, they work side-by-side with speech-language pathologists to support and streamline the treatment.
  • When a patient needs surgery, their team of specialists includes surgeons skilled in surgery for swallowing disorders.

Gastroenterologists direct multidisciplinary care for dysphagia.

If your swallowing problem is caused by a condition that requires multiple specialists, such as a neurologist or an oncologist, gastroenterologists know how to team up with these additional experts, so your care is as coordinated and convenient as possible.

“Swallowing disorders can be complex to treat. That means they can benefit from multidisciplinary care,” says Dr. Manohar.

Gastroenterologists lead their teams of dysphagia experts to offer complete care, while also collaborating with other specialists.

Learn about gastroenterology services at Riverside.

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