The doctor is in

Swallowing: An essential for life

Did you know that a swallowing problem, medically termed dysphagia, may occur as a result of a medical problem?



It can involve the oral cavity, the pharynx or the esophagus. Oropharyngeal dysphagia is highly prevalent in older people because of age-related changes in the body. Elderly people often experience loss of muscle mass and function, reduced elasticity of the tissue, changes in the cervical spine, impaired dentition, reduced saliva and reduced sensitivity in the mouth and throat.

Swallowing problems can lead to distress during meals, reduced intake, aspiration of food or liquids that can lead to bronchial inflammation or aspiration pneumonia, reduced quality of life and increased risk of mortality.

About the Author:

Lorraine S. Berreth Brazier, MA, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech language pathologist at West Valley Hospital and Salem Heath Neuromuscular Program. She holds a degree from Kansas State University and has more than 30 years of clinical experience in dysphagia and neurologic disorders. Lorraine has lived in Oregon for the last four years.

Talk to your primary care doctor about a referral to a speech language pathologist if you suspect that you may have a swallowing problem. An SLP is involved in the diagnosis and treatment of swallowing problems. A comprehensive clinical assessment of swallowing allows the SLP to gather information from:

• Interview/case history and past medical history.

• Physical examination which can include ingestion of food and liquids.

• Collaboration with physicians, the patient and other caregivers.

A modified barium swallow study, also known as the videofluoroscopic swallow study, may also be completed as part of the comprehensive assessment tool. During the MBSS/VFSS the speech language pathologist provides the patient with various consistencies of food and liquids as the swallow is visualized in real time on an X-ray.

Following evaluation, the speech language pathologist can provide treatments such as changes to diet, new swallowing strategies or rehabilitative techniques such as exercises with the goal of lasting change in a patient’s swallow.

Both the clinical swallow evaluation and the modified barium swallow study/videofluoroscopic swallow study can be completed at West Valley Hospital by a licensed and specially trained speech language pathologist under physician’s order.

Medical conditions that commonly result in dysphagia include:

• Stroke.

• Parkinson’s disease.

• Dementia.

• Head and neck cancer.

• Multiple sclerosis.

• Gastroesophageal reflux disease.

• Traumatic brain injury.

• Vocal cord disorders.

• Endotracheal intubation.

• Sjogren’s disease.

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