What Causes Swallowing Disorders?

Swallowing disorders make it harder to eat like normal and get the nutrients your body needs. There are many reasons why swallowing disorders develop, and each is usually due to a neurological, developmental, obstruction, muscular, or other cause.

  • Neurological—Damage to your nervous system can result in swallowing disorders. For example, a stroke, neurological condition like Parkinson’s disease, or a brain tumor can increase the likelihood of having a swallowing disorder.
  • Developmental—A learning disability, cleft palate, or cerebral palsy can make swallowing and eating difficult.
  • Obstruction—Conditions that create an obstruction in your throat or cause the esophagus to narrow can make eating and swallowing difficult. Narrowing or obstructions are usually caused by mouth cancer, radiotherapy treatment, infections, or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Muscular—Any condition that affects the way the muscles in your throat push food down into your esophagus and stomach can create a swallowing disorder. Two of the muscular conditions associated with dysphagia include achalasia and scleroderma.
  • Other—As you age, the muscles in your throat become weaker, which can make swallowing harder. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which makes it harder to breathe properly, can also impact your ability to swallow.

You can often manage swallowing disorders with the help of your physician and speech pathologist. The first step is usually to have a Modified Barium Swallow test performed to identify the cause of your swallowing disorder and the best methods for helping you eat normally again.