Diagnostic evaluation of dysphagia

Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology (2008) 5, 393-403
doi:10.1038/ncpgasthep1153  
Received 4 December 2007 | Accepted 28 March 2008 | Published online: 10 June 2008

Ian J Cook  

Taking a careful history is vital for the evaluation of dysphagia. The history will yield the likely underlying pathophysiologic process and anatomic site of the problem in most patients, and is crucial for determining whether subsequently detected radiographic or endoscopic ‘anomalies’ are relevant or incidental. Although the symptoms of pharyngeal dysphagia can be multiple and varied, the typical features of neurogenic pharyngeal dysphagia are highly specific, and can accurately distinguish pharyngeal from esophageal disorders. The history will also dictate whether the next diagnostic procedure should be endoscopy, a barium swallow or esophageal manometry. In some difficult cases, all three diagnostic techniques may need to be performed to establish an accurate diagnosis. Stroke is the most common cause of pharyngeal dysphagia. A videoradiographic swallow study is vital in such cases to determine the extent and timing of aspiration and the severity and mechanics of dysfunction as a prelude to therapy.

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