Dysphagia is the medical term for any symptom of swallowing difficulty. It may be due to problems with the tongue, muscles of the throat or the food passage

It can be caused by structural, physiological and/or neurological impairments affecting one or more stages of the swallow process- pre-oral (prior to food entering the mouth), oral (when food is in the mouth), pharyngeal (when food is in the throat) and/or esophageal stages (when food is in the oesophagus).

For people with dysphagia eating and drinking is difficult. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Drooling
  • Needing several attempts to swallow
  • Feeling of food sticking in the throat or chest
  • Frequent coughing during or immediately after eating or drinking
  • Unexplained weight loss
If left untreated dysphagia can lead to:
  • Aspiration pneumonia (chest infection)
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Asphyxiation (choking leading to lack of oxygen)
  • Death
A speech pathologist will conduct a thorough assessment which includes:
  • Obtaining a background history
  • Determining communication status
  • Assessing the swallowing and feeding process
  • Trialling of food/fluid swallowing strategies
  • Referral for further assessment (as appropriate)
  • Diagnosis
  • Devising a management plan
Dysphagia can be managed by modifying:
  • A patient’s posture and positioning
  • Food and drink textures consumed
  • The mealtime environment
  • Completing rehabilitation exercises

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