Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia) is a secondary condition that is almost always caused by another condition that affects the swallowing process. Listed below are some of the most common conditions that can cause dysphagia.


According to the Stroke Association, around 40% of stroke survivors will experience swallowing difficulties shortly after they’ve had a stroke. Fortunately, for many stroke survivors, this improves over time.

After a stroke, the parts of the brain that control swallowing can be affected, which can make eating a normal meal or drinking liquids challenging or in some cases impossible. It also creates a risk of choking on food, or of liquid and food going into the lungs instead of the stomach, increasing the risk of chest infections and pneumonia. Not being able to eat or drink properly can result in weight loss, and can lead to malnutrition and dehydration if not addressed early enough.

Ensuring a stroke survivor can eat well and gets the right nutrition is an important part of their recovery and can help to prevent secondary illnesses.


Some types of cancer that affect the head, neck, mouth or throat – as well as certain treatments for cancer – can cause swallowing difficulties, making it problematic to eat food and drink liquids.

Sometimes tube feeding is necessary, e.g.

• While undergoing radiotherapy treatment for oesophageal cancer

• During radiotherapy treatment for head or neck cancer

• After surgery for cancer of the larynx (voice box) – as the throat can swell

You may also experience mouth sores and ulcers as a result of chemotherapy, biological therapies and radiotherapy, as well as tooth problems as a result of radiotherapy.

Your taste may also change as a result of radiotherapy and other cancer drugs which affect your taste buds. It is common to find that food has a bitter or salty taste or even tastes metallic.

Having a sore, dry mouth can also make eating difficult. Eating moist foods can help to make it easier.


Dementia is an umbrella term for diseases or conditions that affect the brain and cause symptoms such as problems with thinking, memory loss and difficulty with problem-solving or language.

One of the more common types of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Strokes can also result in dementia, particularly vascular dementia. Both of these cause damage to the brain and the symptoms a person experiences will be different depending on the part of the brain that has been affected.

Chewing and swallowing difficulties can often occur in people with dementia as the condition progresses.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition where the nerve cells in the brain die. This reduces the amount of the chemical dopamine that is produced by the brain which affects movement.

People with Parkinson’s will experience slower movement, tremors or shaking and stiffness – these are known as motor symptoms. There are other non-motor symptoms such as pain, tiredness and depression.

They can also find it difficult to chew and swallow food and liquid due to the muscles in their face and jaw becoming weak. Having less control over facial muscles and the tongue can make chewing and swallowing difficult. Not being able to chew or swallow properly can result in pieces of food being left behind in the mouth and dropping to the back of the throat when a person isn’t ready for it which can result in coughing or choking. The tongue also plays an important role in moving food around the mouth as a person chews and pushing it to the back of the throat in order to trigger the swallow reflex.

Other Causes

There are other conditions that can also cause Dysphagia such as:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency - this is an uncommon side effect which, if caught quickly enough, can be treated with a successful outcome.
  • Thyroid disorders - there are also various conditions that can lead to the enlargement of the thyroid gland such as Graves’ disease or an over or under active thyroid. The enlargement of the gland will restrict the ability to swallow.
  • Muscular dystrophies – this is a condition that causes the deterioration of muscles groups, weakening muscles in the throat can impact the process of swallowing making it more difficult.

Our range of Softer Foods may well help you or your loved one eat more easily. The meals are tasty and look good which helps encourage appetite, with careful attention paid to the nutritional content.


Find out more about our meals for those with Swallowing Difficulties

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