Swallowing

Swallowing is a complex activity requiring the coordination of many muscles in the face, throat and neck. A stroke can damage these muscles and cause difficulty swallowing. This is called dysphagia.

Dysphagia impacts on drinking, chewing, sucking, controlling saliva and protecting your airway. It can result in breathing difficulties, choking, chest infections, malnutrition, weight loss and dehydration. It can also make it difficult to take medication. Dysphagia can be permanent or it may be temporary. Many people with dysphagia after a stroke recover completely.

A speech pathologist can help you to manage your dysphagia and improve your ability to swallow safely. Swallow is assessed using a series of tests. The speech pathologist may recommend modified food or fluid textures that are nutritious and safe to swallow. These may include thickened drinks, or soft or pureed food. A dietician can help to make sure you are getting enough nutrients in the diet that is recommended.

If you are having significant difficulty swallowing, your doctor, nurse, speech pathologist and dietitian may recommend short term alternative feeding until your swallow gets better. This may be through a nasogastric tube (also called an NG tube or NGT) which is passed through one nostril down the back of your throat and into your stomach.

If your swallowing doesn’t improve, or is likely to take a long time to improve, your team may recommend a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG). A PEG is a tube which goes from the skin in your belly straight to your stomach. Special liquids which meet all of your nutritional and fluid requirements, and sometimes medications, are fed through the tube. Some people can still eat and drink some things when they have alternative feeding through a tube.

Swallowing seems simple.

We do it automatically.

But it is actually complex.

Swallowing uses many muscles in the face, throat and neck.

These muscles must all work together.

A stroke can damage these muscles and cause difficulty swallowing.

This is called dysphagia.

Impacts of dysphagia

Dysphagia can make it hard to:
  • drink 
  • chew
  • suck 
  • control saliva
  • keep from choking
  • take medicines. 
Many people with dysphagia recover completely.

Recovering after stroke

A speech pathologist can help you to swallow safely.

The speech pathologist may tell you to try thickened drinks, or soft or pureed food.

A dietitian will make sure you get enough to eat.

Other ways to help you eat

You may have a lot of trouble eating and swallowing.

You doctor or care team will talk to you about other ways to make sure you get enough food.

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