GERD and the Causes of Difficult Swallowing

There are several different causes of difficulty swallowing, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Recurring swallowing problems can lead to problems such as poor nutrition, dehydration, getting more colds, and aspiration pneumonia.

Sore throat
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Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) can occur when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach.

You may have a sensation of food sticking in the throat, chest pressure, "burning" after eating, or a feeling of choking. Dysphagia can be a symptom of GERD but also of other conditions, as well as complications of GERD.

Causes of Difficulty Swallowing

Several conditions can cause frequent difficulty swallowing, and this symptom should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Difficulty swallowing is more common as you get older because certain conditions are more frequent as you age. The causes can be divided into two categories.

In esophageal dysphagia, food gets hung up while passing down your throat to your stomach. Causes include esophageal spasms, tumors, inflammation, food allergies, scar tissue, and the top culprit, GERD.

With GERD, the contents of the stomach inappropriately leak into the esophagus and cause irritation.

In oropharyngeal dysphagia, you have trouble moving food from your mouth into your throat. Causes include neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy.

This type of dysphagia can also occur after a stroke or brain injury. And some types of cancer, as well as cancer treatments such as radiation, can also cause oropharyngeal dysphagia. And a pharyngeal diverticulum is a pocket that forms in the throat, potentially trapping food.

GERD and Difficulty Swallowing

GERD is a frequent cause of dysphagia. Also, people with other conditions that can cause dysphagia are more likely to have difficulty swallowing if they also have GERD.

When GERD is not treated or is under-treated, it could result in serious complications such as erosive esophagitis and esophageal strictures.

One of the symptoms of esophageal cancer, which is more common in people with GERD, is difficulty swallowing.

If you experience any difficulty swallowing, it is important that you see your healthcare provider.

Other symptoms of GERD can include:

  • Chest pain: This pain usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum), and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours.
  • Hoarseness, especially in the morning: Irritation caused by refluxed stomach acid into the throat can lead to a hoarse voice.
  • Persistent cough: If refluxed stomach acid is breathed in, it can cause coughing. This is a common cause of persistent cough in people who don't smoke.
  • Bad breath: When acid from the stomach comes up into the throat and mouth, acrid-smelling, bad breath can result.

A Word From Verywell

If you have frequent difficulty swallowing, this is an important symptom to discuss with your healthcare provider. It may be a sign of a new condition or a condition that is getting worse. Besides being unpleasant, you may not be eating or drinking enough to maintain good health. Your healthcare provider will be able to explore what the cause may be and decide on how best to relieve your symptoms.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sharon Gillson
 Sharon Gillson is a writer living with and covering GERD and other digestive issues.