Dysphagia - Symptoms & Ayurvedic Treatment

Dysphagia is the term used for difficulty in swallowing or the feeling that food is sticking in the throat. Actually the feeling is in the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food from mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia may be experienced when swallowing solid foods, liquids or even both. In oropharyngeal dysphagia, there is trouble in moving food from mouth into the upper esophagus. Esophageal dysphagia is the condition when there is trouble moving food through esophagus to stomach. Infact, it is the most common kind of dysphagia. Dysphagia can occur at any age, although the risk increases with age. This disease could deprive the body of proper nourishment and further leads to weight loss & weakness. In some people, dysphagia or problem in swallowing food is right from birth onwards.

Dysphagia or swallowing problems can be due to a growth of a pocket outside the esophagus, formed when the esophagus wall is weak. When the person is sleeping or lying down, the food trapped in the pocket gets inside the pharynx. As the esophagus is too narrow, the trapped food prevents other food items from entering the stomach.

Dysphagia can be caused due to damaged muscles and nerves used for swallowing. People suffering from some diseases may have problems while swallowing. A head injury may also affect the muscle that may constrain the mouth and throat movement. An infection or an irritation, including sore throat could narrow the esophagus.

Symptoms of oropharyngeal dysphagia include difficulty trying to swallow, breathing saliva into lungs while swallowing, coughing while swallowing, regurgitating liquid through nose, weak voice and weight loss. On the other hand, symptoms of esophageal dysphagia include pressure sensation in the mid-chest area, sensation of food stuck in throat or chest, chest pain, pain with swallowing, chronic heart-burn and sore throat.

Several factors can cause dysphagia and in children, it is mostly due to physical malformations and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). In adults, dysphagia can be due to tumors, neuromuscular conditions, stroke and GERD. It can also be caused when the muscle in esophagus doesn't relax enough to let food pass into the stomach. Other common risk factors include smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, certain medications etc.

Management of dysphagia involves careful observation of food behaviors of patients. There is a team of dietitians, nurses, speech pathologists and occupational therapists involved in patient's feeding. They carefully observe patient's eating habits, so as to identify high risk cases. Allopathic treatment for dysphagia is done with the help of specific medicines. Even surgery is recommended in several cases.

Herbal treatments for dysphagia help to strengthen and boost body's immune system. Natural herbs can be used as dried extracts found in capsules and powders. Licorice is a wonderful herb and it helps to reduce spasms, swelling and gives pain relief from gastrointestinal upsets.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) helps in reducing spasms and swelling. It is regarded as a safe way for the treatment of dysphagia. Licorice is sweet, cooling and heavy to digest. In Ayurveda, it is used extensively as a demulcent, mild expectorant and anti-inflammatory agent.

Plant Description:

Glycyrrhiza is a hardy herb or under shrub, usually of 2 m height. It is tall, erect perennial plant with light, gracefully-spreading pinnate foliage and dark green lanceolate leaflets that hang down at night and violet to lavender color flower. The roots are brown, long and cylindrical.

Chemical Constituents:

The roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra contain glycyrrhizin, which is a saponin that is 60 times sweeter than cane sugar; Flavonoid rich fractions include liquirtin, isoliquertin liquiritigenin and rhamnoliquirilin. The Indian roots show various 2-methyliso - flavones, and an unusual coumarin, C liquocoumarin, 6 - acetyl- 5, hydroxy- 4-methyl coumarin. Asparagine is also found.

Parts Used: Dried roots and stolons

Benefits of Licorice:

  • Licorice can be chewed on to relieve sore throats.
  • Gargling with an infusion of Licorice root is reputed to relieve oral inflammations, dry coughs, bronchitis and asthma.
  • Soothes irritation caused by acids, and coats digestive and urinary tracts. Hence, Licorice may be prescribed for indigestion, heartburn, dysphagia and gastric ulcers.
  • Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, Licorice is a time-honored remedy for arthritis.
  • Externally applied for treating eczema, herpes, and canker sores (mouth ulcers).
  • Strengthens the immune system.
  • Currently, the herb is being investigated as a possible cancer treatment. It is suspected that the compounds in Licorice root may be able to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.

Dosage: Licorice Powder- 2-4 grams per day.


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