Feeding in Cases of Dysphagia: What Does it Involve?

June 14, 2021
What does feeding in cases of dysphagia involve? You may have heard about this term and the health complications it can cause, but do you understand what it means? In this article, we'll tell you about it.

Feeding in cases of dysphagia should be adapted to the needs of each patient. Generally, it’s important to pay attention to the texture of food, as there is a risk of choking.

So, what do you need to know?

To begin with, let’s remember that a normal swallow allows all food to pass from the mouth to the esophagus. It includes the combined functioning of the structures of the head, neck, and thorax, and the closing of the airways to prevent airway obstruction.

This process is characterized by efficiency, that is, we can ingest all the food and water necessary for the body; and also safety, because it protects the respiratory tract from possible complications.

What is dysphagia?

The term dysphagia comes from two Greek words: “dys” (difficulty) and “phagia” (eating). It refers to a sensation of difficulty when swallowing solid or liquid foods and, on some occasions, it can even cause pain.

If a person experiences difficulty with solids, this indicates an obstruction problem, while dysphagia with liquids indicates a functional disorder.

A girl with dysphagia holding onto her neck.
Dysphagia is a problem that causes difficulty swallowing food.

Types of dysphagia

  • High or oropharyngeal dysphagia includes alterations of oral swallowing, pharynx, and larynx. Here, there are problems in forming or moving food from the mouth to the esophagus. Sufferers may experience coughing or choking. According to a publication in the journal Hospital Nutrition, almost 80% of diagnoses are of this type.
  • Low or esophageal dysphagia refers to alterations of the esophagus and produces the sensation that food gets stuck in the throat or chest, causing difficulty in swallowing. This type represents almost 20% of the diagnosed cases of dysphagias.

You may be interested in: The Differences between Odynophagia and Dysphagia

What are the causes of dysphagia?

There are several factors related to the development of dysphagia. For example, some of the most common are:

  • Developmental problems
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Tumors in the head, esophagus, larynx, mouth
  • Narrowing of the esophagus
  • Neurological problems such as acute cerebrovascular accident (CVA, or stroke), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), dementia, Alzheimer’s, among others
  • Post-surgery or post-treatment of some diseases

However, regarding its symptoms, it’s important to take into account that it may cause more need to drink water with meals, dry mouth, feeling that food gets stuck in the throat, frequent respiratory infections, among others.

Health consequences

Overall, a person with dysphagia doesn’t feel safe because they’re afraid of choking and, as a result, they consume less food and drink. This, in turn, negatively affects their health, as it leads to complications such as:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Aspirations
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory infections

In addition, you might like: Thick Saliva: Why Does It Happen?

Feeding in cases of dysphagia: Considerations

  • It’s important to ensure a safe position, sitting with the back in contact with the back of the chair and feet flat on the floor.
  • If in bed, experts recommend maintaining a 45º position, with the head forward.
  • In addition, it’s important not to feed anyone drowsy or sleepy, to prevent choking.
  • Avoid distractions during the meal.
  • Avoid the use of syringes or straws.
  • Maintain a comfortable and quiet environment.
  • Also, monitor the patient during meals.
  • Maintain proper oral hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory infections in case of aspiration.

Anyone can suffer from dysphagia. However, there’s a greater risk in older people. This is because their muscles are weaker when swallowing. Also, this makes them more prone to developing neurological diseases.

A nurse feeding an elderly woman with a spoon.
Patients with dysphagia should pay special attention to their eating posture.

Feeding in cases of dysphagia

As we already mentioned, the degree of dysphagia or food tolerance is what will determine the texture of the food an individual will eat. Essentially, to achieve the right texture, it’s possible to thicken liquids with commercial products.

Likewise, we can puree solids to achieve the texture of mashed potatoes, nectar, or liquid. What’s more, it’s possible to use colorants to improve the appearance of dishes.

Furthermore, it’s crucial that the final textures are homogeneous, not sticky. Also, they shouldn’t break easily. Another important aspect is volume. Similarly, if necessary, the use of nutritional supplements can be considered, following the indications of a professional.

Overall, considering all of the above, we must understand that the sooner this condition is detected, the better. This means it will be easier to prevent its progression, prevent complications, and take care of our health.

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