Dysphagia and Related Terms

Definition of dysphagia:

The sensation of obstruction or sticking of food during the passage of food in mouth, pharynx or in esophagus can be defined as dysphagia. In general dysphagia is difficulty in swallowing and the term is used for many similar symptoms.

Dysphagia can be oral, pharyngeal and esophageal, bases on the anatomical site of involvement. Dysphagia can also be divided into mechanical and motor dysphagia, based on pathophysiology of the cause of dysphagia.

There are several medical terms which are similar to dysphagia, such as odynophagia, aphagia, globus pharyngeus, phagophobia etc. and it is important to differentiate those medical conditions from dysphagia.


It is pain during swallowing or painful swallowing. The occurrence of odynophagia and dysphagia are very common.


This is complete obstruction of esophagus which may be due to impaction of food bolus in the esophagus. Aphagia is a medical emergency and need immediate and adequate treatment, which is removal of the impacted food bolus. On rare occasion, not food items may also get impacted, especially in case of children.

Globus pharyngeus:

This is sensation or feeling of presence of lump in throat. But generally there is no difficulty in swallowing and patient can swallow normally.


Phagophobia is fear of swallowing and patient refuse to swallow. It may occur in case of hysteria, rabies, pharyngeal paralysis, tetanus etc. Patient may have fear of aspiration. Sometimes inflammatory lesions in throat, esophagus etc. may cause pain (odynophagia) and patient may refuse to swallow as a result.

There are also some conditions which are close to dysphagia. For example, some patient may have problem in initiating swallow (problem in the voluntary phase of swallowing), but once swallow is initiated, it is completed without any difficulty. Some patient can feel as food goes down the esophagus (e.g. most of us have experience of feeling of water passing down esophagus if water is cold).

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