What is odynophagia?

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Odynophagia is the feeling of pain when the alimentary bolus is passing through the mouth, throat, or esophagus. Frequently odynophagia is accompanied by difficult swallowing (dysphagia). Both clinical features might occur separately. As numerous diseases of the esophagus manifest with odynophagia there is no definite cure. The sign on occasion occurs in healthy people.

Odynophagia vs Dysphagia

It is a common mistake to mix up dysphagia and odynophagia. Dysphagia is the medical term to define swallowing problem. This is a common complaint of the elderly. A large number of disorders is linked to dysphagia. Dysphagia triggers hacking cough or choking. The exact disease determinates the needed remedies.

Dysphagia and odynophagia frequently manifest coincidently and may be related to the same cause. Nevertheless a person might experience pain without deglutitive problem and vice versa.

In some cases, odynophagia and dysphagia resolve quickly. Persistent form might of odynophagia meaning a disturbing deterioration of health.

Odynophagia Causes

Odynophagia definition states that it is nonspecific complaint and could be related to varies conditions:

  • URTI. The hypertrophy of palatine tonsils makes it hard to swallow. The sign will abate with the recuperation.
  • Esophageal cancer. The growing tumors provoke chronic algetic swallowing.
  • Gastrointestinal candidiasis and herpetic infection. This is yeast or viral infection that starts in the mouth and goes further.
  • Esophageal reflux. Hydrochloric acid leaks back from the stomach and provokes the formation of ulcers.
  • Chemical burns. They provoke extreme irritation, and the person feels keen and exquisite pain. Sometimes a shock of pain is possible.
  • Esophageal perforation and chest injury. The sheath integrity is broken and it triggers acute pain that cannot be eased with drugs.
  • Spasms and cicatricial changes of the cardiac sphincter. The sensations stronger and might shoot up the back. The person complains of pain, heaviness and a burning sensation.
  • Foreign object in the gullet. The main sign is a dull pain behind the breastbone, acute discomfort during eating. Typical for children under 3.
  • HIV. candidiasis is the opportunistic medical condition linked to AIDS. On the other hand, antiretroviral drugs provoke acid reflux.
  • Diaphragmatic hernia. Deglutitive problem manifests itself after overnutrition and exacerbated when a person lies down. Sometimes pain shoots up the arm.
  • Drug administration: tetracyclines, NSAIDs, potassium chlorate, bisphosphonate, and quinidine.
  • Radiation treatment.
  • Neurological reasons include stroke, dementia, cerebral palsy, Huntington’s disease and others.

Diagnostic tests

To confirm the diagnosis, the physician might make a point of endoscopy. You will swallow a special camera so that a physician is able to examine the covers of your GIT and if needed to take a biopsy. You might be offered to undergo other work-up to reveal the key reason for the odynophagia. One way or another it is better to submit to a blood and urine test.

  • X-ray study with contrast meal shows the anatomical and motility anomalies.
  • Manometry determines the rate of pressures throughout the food intake process.


Your doctor shapes a management program for odynophagia according to the defined reason.

  • Use antibiotics to cure infections;
  • Antacids are ordered for acid reflux;
  • Anti-inflammatories ease ache from tonsillitis and other URTI;
  • Avoid peppermint, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and tobacco;
  • Eat soft food and scrupulously chew it;
  • Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer.
  • Surgery is performed to remove tumors and ulcers.


In most cases, odynophagia ends without any cure. On occasion, untreated odynophagia might result in further complications. The swallowing problems result in cybophobia (the fear of food), weight loss, anemia, undernourishment and others.

Turn to your GP if there is no evident reason of painful gulping if odynophagia is linked with eating or breathing troubles. Consult a GP if the symptom persists for a long period of time.


  1. Bach, Michael C., et al. “Odynophagia from aphthous ulcers of the pharynx and esophagus in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).” Annals of internal medicine 109.4 (1988): 338-339.
  2. Raufman, Jean-Perre. “Odynophagia/dysphagia in AIDS.” Gastroenterology clinics of North America 17.3 (1988): 599-614.
  3. Tavitian, Avedis, Jean-pierre Raufman, and Linda E. Rosenthal. “Oral candidiasis as a marker for esophageal candidiasis in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.” Annals of internal medicine104.1 (1986): 54-55.

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