Food impaction: what is it and how is its treatment

Some people may feel that food is stuck in the esophagus. This is what is known as food impaction. Keep reading to know more.

Last update: 05 July, 2022

It is called food impaction to the process by which food gets stuck in the esophagus. This phenomenon can be caused by problems in chewing, which makes subsequent swallowing difficult, or the situation can occur because the muscles of the esophagus are not working as they should.

The latter will either be due to illness or injury. In any case, it is convenient to identify the problem to solve it.

Before starting, it is important to note that digestion as such begins in the mouth; something that many do not take into account. Eating too quickly can prevent chewing from taking place properly, which will hinder all subsequent processes.

This first mechanical crushing is essential so that later the gastric juices perform their functions optimally, achieving a prompt absorption of the nutrients.

Basic physiology of digestion

Once the food is swallowed, a process is launched from which the food goes down the esophagus through movements called peristaltic. These are executed thanks to the muscles that make up the digestive tract.

If not done correctly, food could get stuck somewhere between the mouth and stomach, creating an uncomfortable feeling. This accident is known as “food impaction”.

In fact, food impaction can be caused by a dysphagia problem. Difficulty swallowing is known by this name, as confirmed by research published in the journal Communication Disorders, Audiology and Swallowing.

It is a disorder that can occur at any stage of life.; also during childhood. Among the most frequent causes of dysphagia, allergies, diffuse spasm, functional disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease and opioid dysfunction could be highlighted.

In general, the symptoms of dysphagia are the accumulation of mucus in the esophagus, chest pain, food impaction, the feeling of tightness in the throat and weight loss. It is normal for patients suffering from this condition to reject food, because eating causes problems and discomfort.

Extreme acidity in the gastric area can favor impaction in the esophagus area.

When to visit the doctor?

If food impaction occurs in a timely manner, it may not be necessary to consult a specialist. This may be due to poor chewing. Even the fact of not eating well. It is enough to improve the habits so that the alteration is solved, thus avoiding unnecessary inconveniences.

However, when there is a constant feeling of choking after eating, of having something stuck in the throat or when there is associated difficulty breathing, it is best to consult a doctor. Even in the most extreme cases vomiting may be experienced after eatingfood impaction becoming a true emergency.

In these cases, the first thing that will be done is a medical history that will be accompanied by the execution of an X-ray to evaluate the place where the food is located. Later, an endoscopy may also be performed to properly assess and diagnose the impaction.

Among the treatment options, the use of certain drugs should be highlighted. that relax the muscles of the esophagus, thus improving the movement of food into the stomach. Among all of them, mention should be made of butylscopolamine, glucagon, calcium channel blockers, benzodiazepines and nitrates. The latter have been shown to promote tissue relaxation.

Prevention of food impaction

Food impaction can be prevented in many cases. Sometimes, this phenomenon is caused by eating too fast, chewing little.

Even the consumption of fast food could increase the risk of suffering from these symptoms. Therefore, it will be enough to take time to swallow, trying to ensure that the first digestive process is carried out efficiently.

Prioritizing fresh foods over processed or hyperpalatable products will also limit the frequency of this disorder.

Now, when the impaction is caused by the existence of a condition of the esophageal structure or function, it is best to seek medical attention. In certain cases, there may be a stenosis or narrowing of the tubewhich complicates the descent of food through it.

Also reflux situations would lead to impaction in some people. To do this, it is best to implement dietary strategies that restrict the presence of irritating foods in the diet that can worsen symptoms. A study published in the journal Current Opinion in Gastroenterology confirms it.

Prevention and early treatment must be resorted to. If the reflux is maintained over time, the esophageal epithelium could be altered.

Endoscopy is performed in urgent cases to identify the obstruction and remove it.

Food impaction is a digestive problem

Food impaction is an alteration of the digestion process that can cause significant discomfort. In certain cases, it is even a reason for an emergency consultation.

Nevertheless, Normally it can be prevented., improving habits and guaranteeing the approach of an adequate diet. If it persists, more complex diagnostic tests would have to be done to evaluate the origin.

Keep in mind that there are other extra-dietary conditions that may be closely related to the appearance of food impaction. An example of them would be overweight. When the percentage of body fat increases, the organs located inside the body are put under pressure; including the esophagus.

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