I have been experiencing a new multiple sclerosis symptom of late in my 12 year MS adventure – troubles with swallowing, otherwise known as dysphagia.
Like many symptoms associated with MS, dysphagia seems just a coincidence, at first. One has simply choked for some reason, swallowed too fast or something went down “the wrong pipe.” After repeated occurrences, one begins to wonder. The condition seems to be chronic, rather than accidental.
Dysphagia, according to the National MS Society, will cause a person to cough after drinking liquids, or choke while eating certain foods, particularly those with crumbly textures. When this kind of coughing or choking occurs, the food or liquids are inhaled into the trachea (windpipe) instead of going down the esophagus (gullet) and into the stomach. Once in the lungs, the inhaled food or liquids can cause pneumonia or abscesses. Because the food or drink is not reaching the stomach, a person may also be at risk for malnutrition or dehydration.
Not cool, right?
Dysphagia can be officially diagnosed by neurologic examination of the tongue and swallowing muscles as well as by an imaging procedure known as a Barium Swallow (videofluoroscope). Treatment typically consists of strategies for safer eating and swallowing, dietary changes, exercises or stimulation designed to improve swallowing. In very severe cases that do not respond to these measures, feeding tubes may be inserted directly into the stomach to provide the necessary fluids and nutrition.
Again, not cool.
For my own part, I find that a practiced awareness is most useful and most simple. Eat with deliberation, be aware of both chewing and swallowing, take your time, and don’t try to talk or laugh while eating. Like most symptoms of MS, this is something that we simply grow accustomed to, learning methods of practice and procedure. To be honest, the condition is, at this point anyway, more embarrassing than frightening, for me, especially when assailed in a crowded restaurant!
Again, chill, take it easy, keep focused, and be aware of foods that seem to exacerbate the condition.
Have you ever experienced dysphagia?
Richard was raised in Portland, Oregon and diagnosed with MS in 2007. Within 3 years, he decided to retire early, at 55, and move to Bali with his wife, who is originally Indonesian. From there, he continues to write about experiences with MS as well as his various adventures on the island.