Many conditions can cause swallowing issues, known as dysphagia. These include neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. They also include brain injuries, strokes, and panic disorders.

Several pharmaceuticals, such as antidepressants and immunosuppressants, can also reduce people’s swallowing ability.

Some people refer to dysphagia as “forgetting how to swallow.” However, swallowing difficulties do not necessarily arise from memory issues — many causes of dysphagia are not psychological.

Anyone can experience swallowing difficulties from time to time. However, recurrent swallowing issues could be a cause for concern.

This article looks at some of the reasons why people develop swallowing problems. It discusses dysphagia that arises from neurological conditions, brain dysfunction, mental health issues, and more.

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As a 2020 literature review explains, several neurological conditions can make it more difficult for someone to swallow. These include:

These conditions are neurodegenerative diseases. They involve the deterioration of brain cells, nerves, and other neurological structures.

This can make it more difficult for the brain to send signals to the muscles which control swallowing, causing dysphagia.

Cerebral palsy, which is not a neurodegenerative condition, can also cause swallowing problems.

When the brain undergoes certain changes, there is the potential for brain dysfunction. This occurs when a change in the brain’s structure reduces its capacity to process information or send signals to other body parts.

According to the same 2020 review, the following conditions can all cause brain dysfunctions that manifest in dysphagia:

According to a 2016 study, traumatic brain injuries and strokes tend to cause roughly equal levels of dysphagia.

Some mental health conditions can also lead to dysphagia.

For instance, a 2018 study investigated the swallowing difficulties of people with panic disorder. Panic disorders are when someone is disposed to having panic attacks.

The study found that for many of these people, anxiety about swallowing was responsible for their dysphagia. In turn, this anxiety developed from several possible mental health issues:

There is also evidence that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can cause dysphagia. For instance, a 2020 case report discusses an individual whose depression and OCD contributed to significant swallowing difficulties.

Besides the above conditions, there are many other potential causes of dysphagia. According to the aforementioned 2023 review, these include the following:

Furthermore, certain medications can induce dysphagia. These include:

Dysphagia can indicate a serious underlying health issue. It could also mean that a change in medication may be necessary.

Moreover, dysphagia can itself be serious. Some people isolate themselves due to embarrassment about their condition. Other individuals can become dehydrated or malnourished.

Therefore, anyone with swallowing difficulties should seek a doctor’s advice.

Dysphagia is not necessarily forgetting how to swallow. Rather, it is when someone experiences regular difficulties swallowing solids, liquids, or both. This can arise for many different reasons.

For instance, several neurological conditions can cause dysphagia. These include MS, ALS, and AD. Brain issues such as strokes, tumors, and injury can also lead to dysphagia. Mental health conditions such as panic disorder and OCD can also cause swallowing difficulties.

Other causes of dysphagia include oesophageal issues, an enlarged thyroid, and tumors in the throat or neck. Medications and recreational drugs, including alcohol, can also reduce a person’s ability to swallow.