What Is Steakhouse Syndrome?

Q. My friend said she had “steakhouse syndrome.” What is it?

A. Food bolus impaction, also called steakhouse syndrome, occurs when a person swallows a large piece of food—usually poorly chewed meat—that becomes stuck in the lower esophagus, the tube that delivers food from the mouth to the stomach.

Unlike choking, the syndrome doesn’t impair breathing ability and the person is still able to speak. It’s often accompanied by chest pain and drooling.

Although in many cases the food dislodges on its own, if the obstruction persists, emergency medical attention is needed to remove the obstruction with an endoscope.

Patients with steakhouse syndrome are often older than 60. People who don’t chew food well, wear dentures, eat too quickly, or drink alcohol while eating have a higher incidence of food bolus impaction.

Many sufferers have an underlying esophageal disorder, such as eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic esophageal inflammation thought to be caused by food or environmental allergies, or a narrowing of the esophagus, called an esophageal stricture. Strictures are often due to severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) but can be due to tumors.

Sometimes an extra band of tissue, called a Schatzki ring, forms in the esophagus. Both Schatzki rings and eosinophilic esophagitis are treatable.

Learn more about how to tackle digestive issues, including gas and bloating and gastroparesis.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into Healthcentral.com in 2018.