What is Dysphagia?

…A frightening and potentially serious problem with swallowing.

You may have been referred to Voice Box by a doctor due to dysphagia, or you may suspect that you have dysphagia due to frequent choking when you are eating and drinking.  Dysphagia can also occur ‘silently’, e.g. the person has dysphagia but does not obviously cough and choke on food or drink.  People with dysphagia may also find that they get pneumonia recurrently.  This can be due to food or drink entering the lungs (called aspiration) and causing a buildup of bacteria.  This is called ‘aspiration pneumonia’ and can be very serious.

If you have been diagnosed with dysphagia or you suspect you have dysphagia, it is important to get professional help right away.  Madeleine can help you to define exactly what is going on with your swallowing and to formulate a management plan.

Dysphagia is usually secondary to another condition.  It can be due to:

  • Neurological changes, such as following a stroke, or as part of a degenerative condition such as MND, MS, Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Respiratory changes, such as with COPD/emphysema, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer.
  • General weakness/frailty e.g. after major surgery or trauma, due to old age.
  • Due to drugs taken such as anti-psychotics.
  • Due to disease or changes of the digestive/airways tract e.g. laryngeal cancer, tracheostomy insertion.

You will be able to see that it is important to have a full case-history of your medical background if dysphagia is suspected.  Assessment will also involve trialling food and drink so that Madeleine can observe your swallowing.  It may also be necessary to arrange an x-ray of your swallowing, called a ‘videoflouroscopy’, to give further information.

Management of dysphagia can involve therapy exercises, and often involves modification of the texture of food and/or fluids to reduce the risk of aspiration, depending on the severity of the dysphagia.

N.B. Madeleine treats ‘oropharyngeal’ dysphagia and cannot see clients with ‘oesophageal dysphagia’ (swallowing problem due to a problem with the oesophagus), as this usually requires surgical investigation and treatment.  

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