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A Medical Look at Dysphagia

By Valeri Thelen, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 3)

Itís important to seek immediate help if obstructions are interfering with breathing or swallowing. If occasional swallowing difficulty becomes ongoing, or is accompanied by weight loss, regurgitation or vomiting, a caregiver should seek medical treatment for a loved one.

If left untreated, dysphagia can lead to serious issues such as malnutrition, dehydration and respiratory problems. When preparing for the initial doctorís appointment to discuss swallowing issues, a caregiver can help make the most of the short time with the professional by preparing information.
First, make sure that there are no pre-appointment conditions such as diet restrictions, then prepare a list of a loved oneís symptoms (including their severity and frequency), as well as lists of current medications and questions for the practitioner.

Some things to discuss with a health care provider are cause, treatments, longevity of issue, side effects from treatment, alternatives, existing health conditions, resources, etc.


Swallowing disorders affect each person differently and a specialist will look at those particulars to come up with a specific treatment plan. Itís not a ďone size fits allĒ way of addressing the issue, and a loved oneís plan will be tailored to their needs.

The goals of treatment, however, are standard:

  •  To be at a place where swallowing is done as safely as possible, and minimizes the risk of choking or aspiration, and
  • Ensure the correct amount of nutrition and hydration is able to be provided for a loved one.

An important thing for a caregiver to realize is that treatment for dysphagia involves a loved oneís family and other support systems. Swallowing can be improved by addressing the overall condition, including strength, stamina, motivation and emotional state.

First, a loved one and caregiver will need to understand what is wrong with the swallowing. A basic understanding will help them connect with the therapies the specialist recommends.

For oropharyngeal dysphagia, a speech or swallowing therapist may be recommended by the doctor. Common therapy includes exercise and learning swallowing techniques.

With a diagnosis of esophageal dysphagia, treatment may be more aggressive, including esophageal dilation, surgery or medications.

If a medical professional recommends medications, professionals suggest a loved one help a person sit upright, stay calm and take one pill at a time during administration. Use plenty of liquid and applesauce to help with the swallowing of pills. They should be taken early in the day, and a loved one remains upright for 30 minutes after swallowing.

Treatment for a swallowing disorder most likely will include a diet modification. A caregiver should make sure their loved one is avoiding foods that may have caused problems in the past, such as tough meats, crusty breads, raw vegetables, whole nuts, some fruits, and sticky foods like peanut butter or frosted treats.


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