Reviewed by Executive Manager Client Engagement and Wellbeing Jodi Haartsen who is a registered MS Nurse Consultant with over 20 years’ experience at Eastern Health MS service in Australia.
Studies have found that about a third of people with MS experience some swallowing difficulties to varying degrees. This is known as dysphagia. The symptoms that cause significant problems are more likely if you have more advanced MS.
Weakness and lack of coordination in the muscles of the neck, mouth, cheeks and throat can interrupt the complex process of swallowing. The messages in the brain that trigger the swallowing response can also be affected in MS. This can affect many parts of swallowing including:
- the process of chewing and preparing food for swallowing
- pushing the food to the back of the throat readying it for swallowing
- initiating the swallowing reflexes
- moving the food into and down the oesophagus into the stomach.
This can result in food or liquids going into or blocking the windpipe (trachea) instead of the oesophagus. This can cause pain or discomfort while swallowing, drooling, hoarseness, food regurgitation or indigestion (heartburn) and coughing or choking which can, in more serious cases, cause severe chest infection or pneumonia.
Difficulty finding words can also occur in MS. This is a complex problem caused by damage in different parts of the brain.