Learn more about the causes and symptoms of persistent swallowing problems, also known as dysphagia.


Dysphagia is a medical term for difficulty swallowing — meaning it takes more time and effort to initiate and complete a swallow. This condition may occur at any age, but it is most common with elderly populations. Difficulty swallowing sometimes occurs after eating too quickly or not chewing food thoroughly. However, persistent swallowing problems may suggest a more serious condition.

There are a range of conditions, factors, and diseases that contribute to a swallowing disorder. One of the most common causes is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).1


The primary symptom of dysphagia is the sensation of being unable to swallow or that food is getting stuck in the throat. Additional signs and symptoms associated with dysphagia include:2

  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Regurgitation
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Stomach acid backing up into the throat
  • Losing weight
  • Gagging or coughing while swallowing

Dysphagia can make it difficult to stay adequately nourished or hydrated and may also signal a more serious underlying condition, such as GERD. Other risks associated with dysphagia include increased risk for lung infections, aspiration difficulties, and pneumonia.

Woman coughs while sitting at a kitchen table reading a magazine.


Dysphagia is estimated to affect as many as 15 million Americans, and most often occurs in people who are more than 40 years of age.2 While dysphagia can be attributed to a variety of causes, one of the most common is chronic acid reflux caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).GERD is a common digestive disease characterized by chronic acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus.3

Information and resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor. Always discuss diagnosis and treatment information including risks with your doctor. Keep in mind that all treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary.


Bollschweiler E, Knoppe K, Wolfgarten E, Hölscher AH. Prevalence of dysphagia in patients with gastroesophageal reflux in Germany. Dysphagia. 2008;23(2):172-176. doi:10.1007/s00455-007-9120-5


Cho S, Choung R, Talley N, et al. Prevalence and risk factors for dysphagia: a USA community study. Neurogastroenterology And Motility: The Official Journal Of The European Gastrointestinal Motility Society [serial online]. February 2015;27(2):212-219


Vaezi M, Zehrai A, Yuksel E, Testing for refractory gastroesophageal reflux disease, ASGE Leading Edge, 2012 Vol 2, No 2, 1-13, American Society Gastroenterology Endoscopy, Page 1