Dysphagia revisited: common and unusual causes

Radiographics. Jan-Feb 2015;35(1):105-22. doi: 10.1148/rg.351130150.


Dysphagia is a common clinical problem whose prevalence is increasing with the aging population in the United States. The term dysphagia is commonly used to describe subjective awareness of swallowing difficulty during the passage of a bolus from the mouth to the stomach or the perception of obstruction during swallowing. Dysphagia may be further classified as oropharyngeal or substernal, depending on the location of this sensation. It can be due to benign or malignant structural lesions, esophageal motility abnormalities, oropharyngeal dysfunction (including aspiration), neuromuscular disorders, or postsurgical changes and is also associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease. Pathologic conditions of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, and proximal stomach can manifest with dysphagia. Imaging remains the preferred method for evaluating patients with dysphagia, and dysphagia is an increasingly encountered indication for radiologic evaluation. Fluoroscopic studies, including the modified barium swallow and esophagography in particular, are often used in the assessment of patients with dysphagia, and the techniques used for these studies should be tailored to the patient's needs. Fluoroscopic studies can be used to evaluate the esophagus for structural abnormalities (eg, webs, diverticula, strictures, masses) and to assess function (eg, the swallowing mechanism and esophageal motility). Knowledge of the imaging spectrum of disease entities that may cause dysphagia and thorough radiologic assessment with a tailored approach may help avoid misdiagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Media
  • Deglutition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology*
  • Deglutition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans


  • Contrast Media