Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a disorder that can be a symptom of many neurological health conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS).
Dysphagia is a common issue in people with advanced MS due to problems with muscle and nerve control. Difficulty swallowing can happen when there is a loss of control in any of the muscles involved, including your mouth, tongue, throat, pharynx, or esophagus.
This can lead to choking, difficulty eating, pain, inadequate nutrition, and other health issues. This disorder can be improved with the care of your doctor and healthcare team.
Read on for information about this common condition in MS, what causes it, and what can help those who may be experiencing it.
MS is a chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system that hinders the flow of messages between the brain and the body. There are many common symptoms of MS, including fatigue, weakness, and changes in speech.
Another MS symptom is difficulty swallowing, which is an intricate process with more than 50 muscles and nerves involved. Also known as dysphagia, this disorder can be caused by any condition that hinders muscles and nerves needed in order to swallow, such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke.
It’s very common in people with MS. As many as one-third of people receive a diagnosis of these symptoms related to swallowing. This can include weak tongue or cheek muscles that make it harder to move food around in your mouth for chewing.
Trouble with swallowing is more common in the later stages of MS, but it can happen at any time. Like many common MS symptoms, dysphagia can get better with time but also worsen during a flare-up.
Difficulty drinking liquids, including choking or coughing, is among the first signs of dysphagia.
Other symptoms of dysphagia can range from mild to severe. In addition to difficulty swallowing, people with dysphagia in MS may have:
For people with MS who are having trouble swallowing, it may be linked to problems with nerves in the brain (cranial nerve paresis), brainstem issues, or other cognitive dysfunctions.
Additionally, people with MS may have nerve damage that causes numbness in their mouth and throat. MS can weaken the voluntary and involuntary muscles that help with swallowing.
There are certain risk factors that make dysphagia more common in general if you have MS:
Dysphagia can be more serious if you have MS because you have a higher risk of choking and aspiration, as liquids or food might enter your airway or lungs.
This is a major hazard because it can lead to other health issues, such as pneumonia. Dysphagia can lead to other complications, like malnutrition and dehydration.
There are several methods doctors use to help pinpoint dysphagia and treat this disorder in people with MS:
If you have MS, let your doctor know right away if you experience difficulty swallowing, drinking, or chewing. Early treatment and management are important to help prevent complications.
Your healthcare team can help determine the best treatment, therapy, exercises, and food changes to best manage dysphagia.
Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can happen in some people with MS and other conditions that affect the nerves and muscles. It can sometimes be a serious issue and cause complications.
If you have dysphagia, there are treatment options and resources to help you deal with this condition.