What is Dysphagia?

The term Dysphagia refers to the swallowing difficulties caused by a disruption in one or more of the three stages of the normal swallowing process. Any disruption in the normal swallowing process can represent a serious threat to a person's health. The obvious risk is airway obstruction through swallowing things the wrong way. The less obvious but equally serious implication is being unable to swallow the medication needed to treat an illness or disease.

Recognising a Patient with Dysphagia

Dysphagia may be identified by the continued presence of one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Dysarthria (imprecise or slurred speech)
  • Poor lip closure/drooling
  • Collecting food in the mouth
  • Dysphonia (altered voice quality)
  • Reduced ability to cough
  • Coughing at meal times or when drinking
  • Chest infection
  • Gastric reflux

What Causes Dysphagia?

There are a number of things which have the potential to cause dysphagia, these may be neurological or mechanical, or a combination. Some of the possible causes of dysphagia are listed below (Morris, 2005):

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Motor Neurone disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Head and neck tumours
  • Invasive surgery
  • Psychological reasons

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