Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. The difficulty can vary from painful sensations while swallowing (odynophagia) to being unable to swallow at all. More commonly affecting older adults, dysphagia when untreated can lead to weight loss, abnormal formations of the esophagus, and even pneumonia. It is therefore important for those affected to seek appropriate treatments such as dysphagia training as soon as possible.
Dysphagia is categorized in several ways. One such way is by the primary affected region of the body. When it is experienced in the esophagus, it is called esophageal dysphagia. When it is experienced in the mouth and throat area, it is called oropharyngeal dysphagia.
Another way to characterize dysphagia is by its root cause. Common causes of esophageal dysphagia include but are not limited to achalasia, esophageal stricture, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), while causes of oropharyngeal dysphagia are often but not always damage to surrounding nerves or neurodegenerative disease.
Lastly, dysphagia can come in various degrees of severity. Some patients only experience difficulty with certain textures of food or drink, such as thin liquids, or when consuming food and/or drink in certain ways, such as in an upright sitting position. Other patients are simply unable to safely swallow enough food and/or drink to maintain their health.
Due to the individual nature of dysphagia, treatments will vary on a case-by-case basis. All of the above factors must be taken into consideration when developing a treatment plan for a new dysphagia patient.
Patients suffering from severe dysphagia who are unable to eat or drink will require the more immediate and intrusive methods of treatment. A feeding tube or equivalent feeding system may be implemented to prevent malnutrition and starvation. This is unfortunately the current long-term solution for dysphagia caused by degenerative neurological conditions.
For cases of esophageal dysphagia caused by GERD, eosinophilic esophagitis, or esophageal spasms, the treatment regimen may consist of prescribed medications or injections.
For cases where the difficulty swallowing is caused by a physical abnormality such as achalasia or esophageal stricture, the next step is often surgery. Depending on the details, patients may be able to choose between different surgical procedures, such as:
A Heller myotomy
A peroral endoscopic myotomy
An esophageal dilation (for achalasia)
After the surgical procedure, patients may then follow up with swallowing and speech therapy.
For milder cases, patients may be able to manage or even resolve their dysphagia with non-invasive treatment methods, such as swallowing and speech therapy or muscle therapy.
Dysphagia training is the collective term for therapies meant to address surgically corrected esophageal dysphagia or milder cases of oropharyngeal dysphagia.
As with other forms of treatment, dysphagia training can take various forms to suit the particulars of each patient’s case. Therapy sessions can focus on any combination of swallowing, speech, and muscle rehabilitation. Those seeking such treatment should ask their primary care doctor for a referral or consider a skilled nursing facility (SNF) which offers the appropriate kind of therapy.
The following are examples of exercises that a patient may be instructed to do in the course of dysphagia training. (Please note that methods will work to different degrees for different people, and this should not be taken as medical advice.)
Muscle exercises: Targeted exercises for face and throat muscles may help retrain muscles and nerves related to swallowing.
Different swallowing techniques: Different food placement and/or body positioning while swallowing may overcome dysphagia with standard swallowing techniques.
Alternative food preparation: For patients with food sensitive dysphagia, adding thickening agents or altering food temperature may prove beneficial.
If a patient responds well to dysphagia training, it is very possible for them to leave the program with minimal lingering effects.
Dysphagia predominantly affects older adults and seniors. At this stage in life, many people are no longer as able to care for themselves and live independently as they once were. To avoid burdening their loved ones, they may be considering or already enjoying the advantages of assisted living.
At Medilodge, they have the option to meet both their lifestyle and therapeutic needs at once. Medilodge operates as both SNFs and assisted living facilities, so they are well-equipped to provide a high quality of life as well as individualized healthcare.
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