What is Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is simply defined as a swallowing disorder. It can occur in any of the three phases of swallowing:
Dysphagia is often noted in stroke survivors and can affect the oral and/or pharyngeal phase of swallowing. The patient may cough or choke while attempting to swallow saliva, liquids, or food. A speech-language pathologist often assesses a patient’s ability to swallow in order to determine the risk of aspiration, (food or liquid going into the lungs) which potentially may lead to a lung infection or pneumonia.
Stroke survivors are at risk for silent aspiration. Silent aspiration is when food and liquid enter into the lungs without any coughing or choking. In these patients, there are no outward signs or symptoms of a swallowing problem.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is dysphagia diagnosed?
Upon admission to the hospital, the patient may have a dysphagia screening performed by the nursing staff. This screening can determine whether the patient is able to be given medications orally. If the patient has difficulty during the swallow screen, the patient is not permitted to consume anything by mouth to prevent the occurrence of aspiration.
Management and Treatment
How is dysphagia treated?
If there are swallowing concerns, the physician will order a bedside swallow evaluation to assess a patient's swallowing mechanism. Once the speech pathologist completes the evaluation, he or she will make any necessary recommendations. These may include a modified barium swallow (a moving x-ray of the swallow), diet modifications, or an alternate means of nutrition.
Remember, it is very important to follow your doctor’s guidelines on swallowing. These guidelines can help to prevent conditions including pneumonia.