What is Dysphagia?

Difficulty or discomfort when swallowing

Dysphagia is associated with a wide range of medical conditions and is a result of damage to the nerves and muscles used for swallowing. Symptoms of dysphagia include choking and coughing on swallowing and food sticking & causing discomfort.

Dysphagia is a serious condition – there is a high risk of food and/or drink passing into the airways if not managed properly which can cause pneumonia. People with dysphagia are also at risk of poor nutrition because of the effort required to eat and/or drink.

People with dysphagia frequently require modification of the texture of food (soft, minced and moist or smoothly pureed) and/or their fluids to be thickened in order to make swallowing as safe as possible.

If you or a family member has dysphagia, a specialist medical practitioner or speech therapist will advise you on the modification level that is right for you.

General signs may include:

  • Coughing during or right after eating or drinking
  • Wet or gurgly sounding voice during or after eating or drinking
  • Extra effort or time needed to chew or swallow
  • Food or liquid leaking from the mouth or getting stuck in the mouth
  • Recurring pneumonia or chest congestion after eating
  • Weight loss or dehydration from not being able to eat enough

Complications:

  • Poor nutrition or dehydration with weight loss
  • Risk of aspiration which can lead to pneumonia and chronic lung disease
  • Less enjoyment or even fear of eating or drinking
  • Embarrassment or isolation in situations involving eating

The Causes of Swallowing Disorders in:

Adults

Adults

Damage to the nervous system, such as:
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Dementia
Problems affecting the head and neck, including:
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat or esophagus
  • Injury or surgery involving the head and neck
  • Decayed or missing teeth, or poorly fitting dentures
Infants

Infants & Children

  • Prematurity
  • Cleft lip/palate
  • Infant reflux
  • Developmental Disability

The Causes of Swallowing Disorders in:

Adults

Adults

Damage to the nervous system, such as
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Dementia
Problems affecting the head and neck, including:
  • Cancer in the mouth, throat or esophagus
  • Injury or surgery involving the head and neck
  • Decayed or missing teeth, or poorly fitting dentures
Infants

Infants & Children

  • Prematurity
  • Cleft lip/palate
  • Infant reflux
  • Developmental Disability

Early Diagnosis

An estimated 75% of cases are un-diagnosed. Early diagnosis allows for rehabilitation before complications make rehabilitation increasingly difficult.

Speech Pathologists have a pivotal role in the assessment and management of Dysphagia.

It is recommended that any person with a swallowing disorder should be screened and assessed by a Speech Pathologist. You can go to www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au where you can make contact with a Speech Pathologist in your area.

Normal
Dysphagia
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