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Swallowing Difficulties Symptoms

Signs which could indicate potential swallowing difficulties include:

  • Difficulty or pain when chewing or swallowing
  • Recurrent chest infections (due to food or liquid entering the respiratory tract)
  • Coughing during or after swallowing
  • A rattling or gurgling voice (after liquids in particular). The voice may sound hoarse or ‘wet’
  • Difficulty controlling food or liquid while in the mouth
  • Regurgitating food or liquid
  • Aspiration of food or liquid
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Patient complains of a feeling of “obstruction” when swallowing
  • Patient has a dry mouth (xerostomia)

Some patients might not acknowledge their symptoms, possibly through embarrassment or because of difficulties in communication, for instance following a stroke. So asking key open questions may be useful in helping to identify patients with swallowing difficulties such as:

  • ‘Do you cough after drinking or eating?’
  • ‘Do you feel that tablets / capsules stick in your throat or chest?’
  • ‘How long does it take you to eat?’
  • ‘Does your mouth feel particularly dry’

The carer could be asked whether the patient:

  • Appears to have difficulty swallowing the tablet or capsule
  • Misses taking medication because of swallowing difficulties
  • Sometimes hides medication instead of taking it
  • Needs to suck or chew tablets to make them easier to swallow