If you have difficulty swallowing, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. Depending on the suspected cause, your doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating ear, nose and throat disorders (otorhinolaryngolist), a doctor who specializes in treating digestive disorders (gastroenterologist), or a doctor who specializes in diseases of the nervous system (neurologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements that you're taking.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For difficulty swallowing, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need? Do these tests require any special preparation?
- Is this condition temporary or long lasting?
- What treatments are available, and which do you recommend?
- What types of side effects can I expect from treatment?
- Are there any alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any dietary restrictions that I need to follow?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms? For example, are certain foods harder to swallow than others?
- Do you have difficulty swallowing solids, liquids or both?
- Do you cough or gag when you try to swallow?
- Are your symptoms getting worse or becoming more frequent?
- Did your symptoms start with difficulty swallowing solids and then progress to difficulty swallowing liquids?
- Do you have to chew your food more thoroughly now or cut it into small pieces to eat?
- Have you ever had to bring food back up to relieve your symptoms?
- If you have brought food back up or vomited, have you ever seen blood or black material?
- Have you unintentionally lost weight?
- Do you have any pain?
- How much alcohol do you regularly consume?
- Do you smoke?
What you can do in the meantime
In the days leading up to your appointment, it may help if you chew your food more slowly and thoroughly than you normally do. If you have heartburn or GERD, try eating smaller meals and don't eat right before going to bed. Over-the-counter antacids also may provide temporary relief.
Oct. 21, 2011
- Dysphagia. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/dysph.asp. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
- Swallowing trouble. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/swallowingTrouble.cfm. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
- Dysphagia. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/print/sec02/ch012/ch012b.html. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
- Feeding and swallowing disorders in children. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/swallowing/FeedSwallowChildren.htm. Accessed Sept. 2, 2011.
- McQuaid KR. Gastrointestinal disorders. In: McPhee SJ, et al., eds. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2011. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Medical Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6395. Accessed Sept. 8, 2011.
- Hirano I, et al. Dysphagia. In: Longo DL, et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Medical Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=9112744. Accessed Sept. 8, 2011.
- Garcia JM. Managing dysphagia through diet modifications. American Journal of Nursing. 2010;110:26.
- Mendelson MH. Esophageal emergencies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and swallowed foreign bodies. In: Tintinall JE, et al., eds. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Medical Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6360571. Accessed Sept. 8, 2011.
- Picco MF (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla. Sept. 13, 2011.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.