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What is Dysphagia

Understanding more about the term dysphagia and the signs and symptoms to look out for.

The term dysphagia is a medical term used by healthcare professionals to describe ‘difficulty swallowing’. Some people have problems swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others may not be able to swallow at all.[1] Dysphagia is not a disease but a symptom.[2]

Swallowing is complex, and a difficulty swallowing can happen at any stage of the process. A safe swallow ensures that food, drink and medication are transferred from the mouth to the stomach bypassing the airway and avoiding aspiration into the lungs. Aspiration of material into the lungs is linked to chest infections or pneumonia.[2]

The swallowing of tablets or capsules may present a challenge to a person with dysphagia. Solid dose medication (tablets and capsules) is often taken with water meaning that the individual must control a liquid at the same time as directing a tablet or capsule through a swallow.[2]

What are the symptoms of dysphagia?

One of the main symptoms of dysphagia is choking and/or coughing when trying to swallow. Other symptoms include shortness of breath and regurgitation.[1],[2]

If any of the following[3] apply to you or someone you are caring for, see your GP who will be able to help with referring you for further tests and treatment following an initial assesment.[1] They may prescribe an easier to swallow formulation such as a liquid medicine.[4]

  • experience difficulties swallowing tablets or capsules
  • don’t take my medicine because I find it hard to swallow
  • need to crush my tablets or open capsules to make them easier to take


ROS000046-007 DOP August 2023


  1. NHS. Dysphagia (swallowing problems) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/swallowing-problems-dysphagia/ Accessed Aug 2023.
  2. Wright et al. 2011. Prescribing Medicines for Patients with Dysphagia. A handbook for healthcare professionals. Guyson, A. Chapter 1: Dysphagia.
  3. Strachan. I, Greener, M. 2005 Medication-related swallowing difficulties may be more common than we realise. Pharmacy in Practice Vol 15; Issue 9; p411-414.
  4. Medicines Management and Older People- a guide for healthcare professionals. Edited by R Greenwall. August 2016