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5 Things You Need to Know About Difficulty Swallowing

By Contributor ; Updated August 14, 2017

Heart? Throat? Which is it?

Getting food stuck and having difficulty swallowing can be a frightening circumstance. The nerves that supply the esophagus (the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach) are the same nerves that supply the heart. Consequently, the brain reacts with a great deal of attention, releasing lots of adrenaline. Alarms go off. For all the brain knows, you're having a heart attack.

Different Kinds of Swallowing Problems

If a person slams down a half piece of bread and suddenly feels as though he slammed down a whole loaf, the cause of the problem is obvious. Bread balls up and is easily caught in a wave of esophageal spasm. This is less of a problem than someone who consistently has difficulty swallowing the first bite of a meal or someone who has progressive difficulty even swallowing liquids. Chronic difficulty swallowing should never be ignored. It is a sign that something is very wrong. See your doctor.

Red Wine Makes Me Whine

There are some foods that often cause esophageal reflux, meaning food and stomach contents go in the wrong direction. Red wine, tomatoes and significantly hot or cold fluids head the list. These foods cause an increase in the acidity of stomach secretions and, for some people, a dysfunction in the wave of contraction that moves food into the stomach. A simple solution is to switch to white wine and avoid tomatoes. If that sounds like a fate worse than death, then try taking a medication like cimetidine or ranitidine 30 minutes before eating.

That's a Balk!

Swallow twice in a row. Then, quickly try swallowing a third time. Nothing happens. It appears that you are "balking" as you try to swallow. This is because the first part of swallowing is controlled by "striated muscle," muscle that is under the direct control of your motor cortex. The second part of swallowing, roughly the last two-thirds of the esophagus, is powered by smooth muscle, the muscle of the gut. This muscle acts on its own. When the esophagus is working properly, it slides food from the mouth to the stomach in a coordinated wave of contraction. But it requires a rest period before handling another wave of contraction, basically giving food a chance to settle into its new home, the inside of your tummy.

No ...Really ...I Can't Swallow

There is a condition called globus hystericus. People with this condition have difficulty swallowing caused by anxiety. Because the last two thirds of the esophagus is supplied by smooth muscle, neurotransmitters and neural hormones that are affected by emotions play a role in its function. Everyone can relate to a having a "gut ache" in stressful circumstances, such as taking a test. Globus hystericus is a similar circumstance. The difference is that the situation can evolve into a chronic state. Difficulty swallowing becomes the body's way of saying, "Thought you might like to know, I am really UPTIGHT!"

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