One of the more common issues in post-stroke recovery is dysphagia, which is difficulty in swallowing during meals. Dysphagia can affect as many as 65% of stroke patients. If this problem is not identified and dealt with, it can cause poor nutrition, illness and slow recovery.

Fortunately, dysphagia is entirely manageable with an appropriate treatment plan with your doctor and speech language pathologist.


Aspiration Problems

One of the serious risks of dysphagia is that the stroke patient can aspirate, or inhale, her food and drink. This is caused when the material the patient swallows goes into the lungs and airways. This can cause pneumonia. In healthy people, aspiration will cause you to cause violent to expel the food or drink. But after a stroke, the patient may have reduced sensations in the throat. Also, food and liquid can go into the lungs without the stroke survivor even knowing it. This is referred to as silent aspiration.

Dysphagia Management – Swallow Testing

A speech language pathologist can be a great help in managing this problem. She is trained to test swallowing function:

  • She will work with you at the bedside, and will evaluate how well the mouth muscles move.
  • Then, she will ask questions to determine if the patient can remember some of the skills needed to prevent aspiration of food.
  • She also may listen to the voice of the stroke patient to get an idea how well the voicebox is performing.
  • She may give the patient drink and food to swallow to assess the problem further.

Other medical professionals will work with the patient to ensure that someone with dysphagia is able to get enough good nutrition every day with their meals. If not, the patient can be tube fed until the problem is better under control.

Treatment Plans for Dysphagia

There are many plans and tips that the stroke patient can use to minimize swallowing problems. For example:

  • Turning the head to the side to give better protection of the airway.
  • Taking very small sips of liquid so not of it gets into the airway. Lack of tongue control is common in some stroke patients.
  • The speech language pathologist may advise that the stroke patient change what they eat and drink.
  • Thin liquids, such as regular water, can be difficult to swallow for the patient because they move very quickly in the mouth. So, some survivors will be given thickened liquids that are safer to swallow. Some stroke products can help a great deal with swallowing liquids safely, such as the Wonder-Flo Cup, and the Wedge Cup.

Generally, the stroke survivor can help to prevent problems with swallowing food and drink by sitting up straight when they eat and drink. Taking small sips and bites can help as well. And after the meal, the patient should be sure that all food is out of the mouth and has been swallowed.

Dysphagia can be a real challenge for some stroke survivors, but with proper planning with your medical team and following some basic safety tips, you will be able to easily manage the condition.