Multiple Sclerosis is a funny beast. It is not funny in an amusing sense. It is funny in a peculiar way. How can dysphagia, a difficulty with swallowing be an MS symptom.

Dysphagia is just one of the many multiple sclerosis symptoms I have experienced over the years.

There are around 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves involved in the swallowing process. There are three stages in getting food from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia can result when he process malfunctions.

  • The tongue manipulates the food in the mouth to facilitate chewing. This breaks the food into small and manageable pieces while saliva helps soften and moisten the particles ready for swallowing.
  • The tongue pushes the food to the, or liquid to the, back of the mouth. This triggers the swallowing reflex which will pass the food through the pharynx to the oesophagus.
  • Once food enters the oesophagus it begins the journey to the stomach. Muscles massage the food along the canal and this can take up to three seconds.

Dysphagia can occur if there is a problem with any part of the swallowing process. Muscle weakness, particularly in the tongue or cheeks makes chewing difficult. Neurological issues may prevent the triggering of the swallowing reflex when food should be passed through the pharynx.

Dysphagia (Swallowing Difficulty)

dysphagia swallowing
Swallowing Process

This can lead to coughing and choking or food entering the windpipe and the lungs which may result in aspiration pneumonia.

A modified barium swallow (videoflouroscopy) may be used to aid the diagnosis or a fibre-optic laryngoscopy allows the doctor to look down the throat.

While Multiple Sclerosis is not, of itself, normally considered to be a terminal condition; dysphagia IS one of the few symptoms that can in extreme cases cause premature death from choking.

Suggested Reading

Managing MS Naturally: A Self-help Guide

Lots Vitamin D: The Coimbra Protocol for Autoimmune Diseases

MS for Dummies, 2nd Edition

Personal Experience with dysphagia

I have had frequent difficulties with swallowing. But, thankfully these have not been severe difficulties. Often I find when taking medication in the evening. That the tablets feel as though they are lodged in my throat.

And I need to drink copious quantities of water to try and flush them through. The pills are not really stuck in my throat. This is just another weird MS sensation.

A good friend of mine, who has PPMS cannot swallow any medication unless he takes it with a large spoonful of yogurt.

This is not a solution I personally condone as yogurt is a dairy product. And I have elected to be dairy-free and gluten-free as part of my disease management protocol.


The strengthening of weakened muscles may require exercise. Smoother foods, like soups, may improve the situation.

However, this may be less palatable to certain individuals.

Furthermore, a speech-language pathologist may assist with developing new swallowing techniques.

Occasionally, in more severe cases, it may be necessary to administer medication or carry out surgery to ensure the proper intake of nutrition.

External Links

Dysphagia (swallowing problems)  a definition on NHS Choices

Dysphagia is classified as a digestive disorder on WebMD

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Judy Epstein
Judy Epstein

I have this too, also due to MS. What I do is breath with the intention to help relax the muscles to do with swallowiing. I hope this helps.

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