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Painful swallowing

Definition

Swallowing pain is any pain while swallowing. You may feel it high in the neck or lower down behind the breastbone. It is most often a strong feeling of uncomfortable squeezing and burning. Swallowing pain may be a symptom of a serious disorder.

See also: Swallowing difficulty

Alternative Names

Swallowing - pain or burning; Odynophagia; Burning feeling when swallowing

Considerations

Swallowing is a complex act that involves the mouth, throat area, and esophagus (the tube that moves food to the stomach). Many nerves and muscles control how these body parts work. Part of swallowing is voluntary, which means you are aware of controlling the action. However, much of swallowing is involuntary.

Problems at any point -- from chewing food and moving it into the back of the mouth to moving the food into the stomach -- can result in painful swallowing.

Chest pain, the feeling of food stuck in the throat, or heaviness or pressure in the neck or upper chest while eating are often the result of swallowing difficulties.

Common Causes

Swallowing problems may be due to infections, such as: 

Swallowing problems may be due to a problem with the esophagus, such as:

Other causes of swallowing problems include:

  • Mouth or throat ulcers
  • Something stuck in the throat (for example, fish or chicken bones)
  • Tooth infection or abscess

Home Care

Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly.

If someone is choking, immediately perform the Heimlich maneuver .

You may have an easier time swallowing liquids or pureed foods than solids.

Avoid very cold or very hot foods if you notice that they make your symptoms worse.

Call your health care provider if

Call your doctor or nurse if you have painful swallowing and:

  • Blood in your stools or your stools appear black or tarry
  • Shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Weight loss

Tell your doctor about any other symptoms that occur with the painful swallowing, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

  • Do you have pain when swallowing solids, liquids, or both?
  • Is the pain constant or does it come and go?
  • Is the pain getting worse?
  • Do you have difficulty swallowing?
  • Do you have a sore throat?
  • Does it feel like there is a lump in your throat?
  • Have you inhaled or swallowed any irritating substances?
  • What other symptoms do you have?
  • What other health problems do you have?
  • What medications do you take?

The following tests may be done:

References

 

Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 140.

Kahrilas PJ, Pandolfino JE. Esophageal neuromuscular function and motility disorders. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds.Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed.Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 42.


Review Date: 11/9/2011
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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