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Lump in Throat

(Globus Sensation)

By

Jonathan Gotfried

, MD, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Last full review/revision Mar 2020| Content last modified Mar 2020
Click here for the Professional Version

Some people feel as if they have a lump or mass in their throat when no mass is actually there. If this sensation is unrelated to swallowing, it is termed globus sensation, or globus hystericus (which does not mean the person is hysterical). If people have the sensation but also notice difficulty swallowing, see 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 .

Causes of Lump in Throat

Doctors are not sure what causes globus sensation. It may involve increased muscle tension in muscles of the throat or just below the throat or it may also be due to gastroesophageal reflux. The sensation sometimes comes when people experience certain emotions, such as grief or pride, but is often independent of such feelings.

Globus sensation is not dangerous and does not cause complications. However, certain more serious disorders that affect the esophagus can sometimes be confused with globus sensation. Such disorders include upper esophageal webs Esophageal Webs Esophageal webs are thin membranes that grow across the inside of the upper part of the esophagus and may cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). (See also Overview of Esophageal Obstructions... read more Esophageal Webs ; esophageal spasm Esophageal Spasm Esophageal spasm is a disorder of the rhythmic waves of muscular contractions (peristalsis) of the esophagus. The cause of this disorder is not known. Symptoms include chest pain and difficulty... read more ; gastroesophageal reflux disease Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) In gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach contents, including acid and bile, flow backward from the stomach into the esophagus, causing inflammation in the esophagus and pain in the bottom... read more Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) (GERD); muscle disorders such as 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 , myotonic dystrophy Myotonic Dystrophy Myotonic dystrophy is a rare muscular dystrophy. This disorder affects the ability to relax the muscles at will. Myotonia refers to delayed relaxation after muscle contraction, which can cause... read more , or autoimmune myositis 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 ; and tumors in the neck or upper chest. Such disorders typically affect swallowing and/or cause other symptoms besides the sensation of a lump.

Evaluation of Lump in Throat

People with globus sensation rarely require immediate evaluation by a doctor. The following information can help people decide whether a doctor’s evaluation is needed and help them know what to expect during the evaluation.

Warning signs

When to see a doctor

People who have warning signs should see a doctor within a few days to a week. People who have no warning signs should call their doctor. Depending on the severity and nature of the sensation, doctors may suggest people wait to see how symptoms develop or suggest a mutually convenient time.

What the doctor does

Doctors ask questions about the person's symptoms and medical history and do a physical examination. What doctors find during the history and physical examination helps decide what, if any, tests need to be done.

The history is focused on distinguishing globus sensation from difficulty swallowing, which suggests a structural or motility (movement) disorder of the throat or esophagus. Doctors ask people to clearly describe their symptoms, particularly their relationship to swallowing (such as a sensation of food sticking) and emotional events. They also seek any other warning signs.

The physical examination is focused on the mouth and neck. Doctors inspect and feel the floor of the mouth and the neck for masses. Doctors look down the throat with a thin, flexible viewing scope to inspect the back of the throat and the voice box. Doctors also observe the person swallowing water and a solid food such as crackers.

Warning signs or abnormal findings found during the examination suggest a mechanical or motility disorder of swallowing. People who have chronic symptoms that occur during episodes of grief that may be relieved by crying suggest globus sensation.

Testing

People who have symptoms that are not related to swallowing, have no warning signs (particularly no pain or difficulty with swallowing), and a normal examination (including swallowing observed by the doctor) most likely have globus sensation. Such people rarely need tests.

Treatment of Lump in Throat

Globus sensation does not require any treatment besides reassurance and sympathetic concern. Sometimes, simply understanding that globus sensation comes with certain moods is all the help people need. No drugs are helpful. However, if any underlying depression, anxiety, or other behavioral disorder seems to be making symptoms more disturbing to people, doctors may try giving an antidepressant drug or referring people to a psychiatrist.

Key Points about Lump in Throat

  • Globus symptoms are not related to swallowing.

  • People do not need tests unless their symptoms are related to swallowing, their physical examination is abnormal, or they have warning signs.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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