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  • Writer's pictureGaurav Arora, MD

That's a Hard Pill to Swallow (Trouble Swallowing)

Trouble swallowing, also called dysphagia, is when it is hard to swallow food or liquids (or even pills). It can happen to people of all ages, but it is more common in older adults.

If you have trouble swallowing, it is important to see a doctor. They will look at your throat and may give you a test to see what is causing the problem. One test that is often used to diagnose trouble swallowing is called an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, a thin tube with a light and a camera on the end is put down your throat (after putting you to sleep). This allows the doctor to see inside your throat and esophagus (the tube that food goes down to the stomach) and check for any problems.


There are many different causes of trouble swallowing. Some common causes are:

  • Having a sore throat or an infection in the throat

  • Having a problem with the muscles or nerves that help you swallow

  • Having a blockage in the throat, such as a tumor

  • Having a problem with the esophagus, such as acid reflux or a condition called achalasia

Endoscopy can help to identify the cause of trouble swallowing. For example, if a blockage is seen, such as a tumor, it can help to diagnose cancer. If the esophagus is narrowed, it can help to diagnose achalasia. There are other reasons for narrowing of the esophagus and endoscopy can help diagnose those as well.


There are different ways to manage trouble swallowing. The treatment will depend on what is causing the problem. Here are a few things that can help:

  • Eating softer foods or cutting food into small pieces

  • Drinking liquids with meals instead of swallowing them separately

  • Taking medicine to help the muscles in the throat and esophagus work better

  • Doing exercises to help the muscles in the throat and esophagus work better

  • Surgery/endoscopy to remove a blockage or fix a problem with the esophagus, such as dilatation (widening) of the esophagus.


If you have trouble swallowing, it is important to see a doctor. They can help figure out what is causing the problem and what you can do to make it better. Eating softer foods and drinking liquids with meals can help make it easier to swallow. There are also medicine and exercises that can help make the muscles in the throat and esophagus work better. In some cases, surgery such as endoscopy or dilatation of the esophagus may be needed to remove a blockage or fix a problem.

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