Can Acid Reflux Cause Difficulty Swallowing?

If you have trouble swallowing and also experience symptoms of acid reflux, contact your doctor to determine if the two problems are linked. Typically, people who have minor problems with acid reflux don't have difficulty swallowing. But if the condition has progressed to a more serious form, your difficulty swallowing might be an indication that you need treatment.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux also is known as gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn. A typical symptom is the taste of regurgitated food at the back of the mouth. Some people also experience a sour or acidic taste. A burning sensation in the chest frequently accompanies acid reflux, which is why many people refer to it as heartburn. If your acid reflux worsens, it can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease. At this point, you might experience nausea, vomiting and difficulty swallowing.

Cause

The symptoms you experience are due to a malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter. It might open spontaneously or fail to close properly, allowing the contents of your stomach to rise up into the esophagus. Your stomach contains acids, which it uses to digest your food. When these acids rise with the food through your esophagus, it causes the burning sensation you feel in your chest.

Prevention

The symptoms of acid reflux aren't necessarily a cause for alarm. For most people, avoiding foods that give rise to the symptoms is enough to limit the occurrence of acid reflux. Typical foods you should avoid include black pepper, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, fatty food, fried food, ketchup, onions, mustard, orange juice, peppermint, soft drinks, vinegar and tomato sauce.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

If you find it difficult to swallow due to your acid reflux, you might have progressed to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. No one knows why some people progress to GERD while others don't, but the defining symptom is frequent acid reflux -- more than twice a week. Failure to treat the disease can lead to significant health problems, including esophagitis, or bleeding and ulceration along the lining of your esophagus, which can make it difficult to swallow. Another complication of chronic GERD is the development of scar tissue along your esophagus due to repeated inflammation. This can narrow your esophagus, making it hard to swallow. In extreme cases, the chronic damage might lead to esophageal cancer, which often is fatal.

Considerations

If you have difficulty swallowing, or if you experience frequent acid reflux, talk to your doctor immediately to determine if you need to make some lifestyle changes. Besides telling you to avoid problematic foods, your doctor also might advise you to undergo further tests to determine the severity of the problem and to take medication to reduce your symptoms.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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