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Why does Food get Stuck in my Esophagus?

Updated on April 19, 2015

Some people experience difficulty swallowing while eating, resulting in food getting stuck in the esophagus. The esophagus is a muscular tube that moves fluid and food from the back of the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal dysphagia refers to food getting hung up at the base of the throat or in the chest after you start to swallow.

There are many different possible causes for food getting stuck in the esophagus, some serious and some relatively minor. Here we explore those possibilities.

Possible Causes

Dysphagia is most common among babies, older people and people with neurological disorders. There can also be various other physical reasons for it, including things as serious as cancer or cancer treatment.

Having a stroke or spinal cord injury can cause the muscles and nerves that help food through the throat to work inadequately and, therefore, not move food through the throat down into the stomach. Neurological conditions (as noted briefly above) can also cause this problem; these conditions include muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and parkinson's disease.

Problems with the immune system can also cause difficulty swallowing, such as polymyositis and dermatomyositus, which cause inflammation and weakness of the esophagus.

Esophageal spasms can occur, too, that cause the muscles of the esophagus to squeeze and not allow food to pass through.

Pharyngeal diverticula occurs when a sac forms in the throat above the esophagus that blocks food from passing through.

Achalasia occurs when the lower esophageal muscle (sphincter) fails to relax to let food enter the stomach, in which case food might come back up to the throat. This often happens when the muscles in the wall of the esophagus are weak.

Various growths, scars or tumors on the esophagus could cause trouble swallowing. Tumors on the esophagus could be but are not necessarily cancer. Also, masses outside the esophagus, like on a vertebrae, could cause stricture of the esophagus.

Scleroderma occurs when the tissues of the esophagus narrow and harden and could hamper your ability to swallow and for food to pass to the stomach.

Eosinophillic esophagitis is another possibility as far as why you might have difficulty swallowing food, and it is the result of there being too many cells in the esophagus. This can actually be caused by an allergy.

Radiation treatments also can inflame and scar the esophagus, making it difficult for food to pass through to the stomach.

Image of esophagus
Image of esophagus | Source

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), often referred to as Acid Reflux, can cause problems with the esophagus, resulting in difficulties swallowing food and fluids. This condition involves stomach acids regularly getting backed up into esophagus, which can cause ulcers and scars to form in the esophagus, narrowing the passage to the stomach.

Conditions that GERD can cause include:

  • Esophagitis - swelling of the esophagus. Can also be caused by infection or allergy.
  • Esophageal stricture - This is a narrowing of the esophagus caused by such things as scar tissue and tumors.

So, not only does GERD make it difficult to eat and swallow food, but it can exacerbate the problem by creating other conditions in the esophagus that further lead to difficulties eating and swallowing.


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So the causes of food getting stuck in the esophagus are varied, from the very serious to something comparatively manageable. Of course, it is always wise to be examined by a doctor to determine the actual seriousness of the problem.

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    • Jack Burden profile image

      Jack Burden 2 years ago from Columbus, OH

      I've had to deal with difficulty swallowing for years. While I've been to the doctor multiple times and have gone through any number of tests, I've found that acid reflux has generally been the culprit. Once I cut down on drinking soft drinks, minimized the amount of coffee, and taken care to chew my food thoroughly, the problem has become manageable.

    • NathaNater profile image
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      NathaNater 2 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your first-hand experience, Jack.

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