Causes of Swallowing Disorders

Roughly, 18 million Americans have soreness or difficulty while swallowing.

Severe swallowing disorders require long-term rehabilitation or surgery. Mild swallowing problems — although easier to treat — still may affect your quality of life.

At the UPMC Swallowing Disorders Center, we treat both severe and mild swallowing conditions.

Risks of Untreated Swallowing Disorders

If dysphagia — the medical term for swallowing issues — goes untreated, it may lead to severe problems such as:

  • Aspiration pneumonia — an infection that may result from food or liquid entering the lungs
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Pulmonary fibrosis

Causes of Swallowing Disorders and Nutrition Issues

Swallowing disorders and related nutrition issues can be the result of:
Side effects of medical treatments
  • Combined chemo and radiation therapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgical changes to the anatomy
  • Cervical spine surgery
  • Mouth and throat surgery
  • Thyroid surgery
  • Tracheostomy
Certain medical conditions​
  • Cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke)
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Trauma to the head and neck
  • Vocal cord paralysis
Chronic nervous system disorders​
  • ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Parkinson’s disease
Autoimmune disorders​
  • Myositis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scleroderma
  • Deconditioning
  • Dementia
  • Generalized weakness
  • Loss of muscle mass

Swallowing and Nutrition Concerns During Radiation Treatment

If you have concerns about swallowing and nutrition during radiation therapy for head or neck cancer, please see:

Make an Appointment at the Swallowing Disorders Center

To make an appointment or learn more about treatment, call 412-647-6461 or email the UPMC Swallowing Disorders Center.

Learn what to expect at your first visit to the Swallowing Disorders Center.

Learn More About Causes of Swallowing Disorders

UPMC Patient Education Materials:

From our Health Library:


Contact Us

UPMC Swallowing
Disorders Center

203 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Phone: 412-647-6461
Fax: 412-647-6460

Email the Swallowing Disorders Center. »

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