What is Dysphagia?

“Dysphagia,” is the medical term for difficulty swallowing due to a variety of conditions such as acquired neurological disorders (e.g, stroke, brain injury), neuromuscular diseases (e.g., Parkinson's Disease, MS, ALS, dementia), head and neck cancer or the aging process.  Dysphagia is prevalent within the elderly population, and can result in further complications such as weight loss, dehydration, or malnutrition Aspiration pneumonia, the fifth leading cause of death in the United States for individuals over the age of 65, is also prevalent with patients experiencing dysphagia.  

A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) is trained professional to evaluate and treat swallowing disorders.   In the assessment of dysphagia, an instrumental examination (such as Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing- FEES or Modified Barium Swallow study) is beneficial to accurately assess the swallow mechanism in order to ensure the patient is safe to eat and drink without material from entering the lungs.  

Signs and symptoms of dysphagia may include but are not limited to:

  • Coughing, choking or throat clearing when eating/drinking
  • A wet vocal quality when eating/drinking
  • Difficulty swallowing medications
  • Difficulty chewing or moving food/liquids around in the mouth
  • Difficulty controlling secretions, liquids or food in the mouth
  • Complaints of food feeling "stuck"
  • Difficulty initiating a swallow
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Poor food intake
  • Weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia
  • Severe reflux