After a dysphagia diagnosis where a doctor has confirmed that a patient has difficulty swallowing and has determined the cause, patients can expect a number of approaches to treatment and management, depending on the cause. People like speech-language pathologists will commonly be involved in care, along with ear, nose, and throat physicians. Some possible treatments include surgery, physical therapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. Patients may be advised to meet with several care providers while developing a treatment plan to receive the benefit of differing advice based on experience with other patients.
Difficulty swallowing can have a number of causes including damage to the throat and neurological conditions. If there is a physical cause like narrowing or scarring in the esophagus, surgery may be recommended to open the esophagus and make it easier to swallow. If the cause of the damage is an ongoing issue like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) the patient may receive treatment for that to prevent additional damage to the throat. In the case of neurological diseases, treatment after a dysphagia diagnosis may turn to management of the disorder, as it is often difficult to treat nerve damage.
Swallowing therapy with a speech-language pathologist or physical therapist may be used after a dysphagia diagnosis to help a patient develop swallowing skills and learn to compensate for permanent damage that cannot be repaired. The therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of the patient and develop a plan appropriate to the patient's condition and needs. Patients will have exercises to do at home to develop their throat muscles and will also regularly meet for therapy sessions.
Lifestyle and dietary changes may be recommended for some patients. Changing the diet may facilitate swallowing by providing a patient with foods known to be easy to swallow, such as soft foods. If a patient has gastrointestinal issues, avoiding foods with the potential to trigger flareups may be advised. Changing sleeping position and making similar adjustments may help treat underlying causes of dysphagia. Medications can treat acid reflux and some other conditions associated with a dysphagia diagnosis.
Doctors have many approaches to caring for a patient with a dysphagia diagnosis. Regular checkups may be encouraged to monitor the patient's condition and check for signs of complications or problems like increased narrowing of the esophagus. Developing a treatment plan the patient can adhere to is important, as failure to keep up with medications, diet, exercises, and other aspects of a treatment plan will make the plan less effective.