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Propulsion Disorders of the Throat


Kristle Lee Lynch

, MD, Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
Topic Resources

Propulsion disorders of the throat occur most often in people who have disorders of the throat muscles or the nerves that serve them.

How the Esophagus Works

As a person swallows, food moves from the mouth to the throat, also called the pharynx (1). The upper esophageal sphincter opens (2) so that food can enter the esophagus, where waves of muscular contractions, called peristalsis, propel the food downward (3). The food then passes through the diaphragm (4) and lower esophageal sphincter (5) and moves into the stomach.

How the Esophagus Works

The most common cause of disorders of the muscles or nerves of the throat is

Other disorders that can affect the throat muscles or nerves include dermatomyositis Autoimmune Myositis Autoimmune myositis causes inflammation and weakness in the muscles (polymyositis) or in the skin and muscles (dermatomyositis). Muscle damage may cause muscle pain and muscle weakness may cause... read more Autoimmune Myositis , systemic sclerosis Systemic Sclerosis Systemic sclerosis is a rare, chronic autoimmune connective tissue disorder characterized by degenerative changes and scarring in the skin, joints, and internal organs and by blood vessel abnormalities... read more Systemic Sclerosis , myasthenia gravis Myasthenia Gravis Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disorder that impairs communication between nerves and muscles, resulting in episodes of muscle weakness. Myasthenia gravis results from malfunction of the... read more , muscular dystrophy Introduction to Muscular Dystrophies and Related Disorders Muscular dystrophies are a group of inherited muscle disorders in which one or more genes needed for normal muscle structure and function are defective, leading to muscle weakness of varying... read more , polio Polio Polio is a highly contagious, sometimes fatal enterovirus infection that affects nerves and can cause permanent muscle weakness, paralysis, and other symptoms. Polio is caused by a virus and... read more , pseudobulbar palsy, Parkinson disease Parkinson Disease (PD) Parkinson disease is a slowly progressive degenerative disorder of specific areas of the brain. It is characterized by tremor when muscles are at rest (resting tremor), increased muscle tone... read more , and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Other Motor Neuron Diseases (MNDs) Motor neuron diseases are characterized by progressive deterioration of the nerve cells that initiate muscle movement. As a result, the muscles stimulated by these nerves deteriorate, become... read more (Lou Gehrig disease). A class of medications called phenothiazines, which are used to treat certain severe forms of mental illness, can impair the normal function of the throat muscles and cause difficulty swallowing Difficulty Swallowing Some people have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). In dysphagia, foods and/or liquids do not move normally from the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. People feel as though food or liquids become... read more .

In cricopharyngeal incoordination, the upper esophageal sphincter (cricopharyngeal muscle) remains closed when swallowing, or it opens in an uncoordinated way. An abnormally functioning sphincter may allow food to repeatedly enter the windpipe and lungs, which may lead to recurring lung infections and eventually to chronic lung disease. A surgeon can cut the sphincter so that it is permanently relaxed. If left untreated, the condition may lead to the formation of a Zenker diverticulum Zenker diverticula (pharyngeal diverticula) Esophageal diverticula are abnormal pouches or pockets in the esophagus. Rarely, they cause swallowing difficulties and regurgitation (the spitting up of food without nausea or forceful contractions... read more Zenker diverticula (pharyngeal diverticula) , a pouch that is formed when the lining of the esophagus pushes outward and backward through the cricopharyngeal muscle.

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