“Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty, or inability to swallow.
Dysphagia may present as difficulty with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, controlling saliva, taking medication, or protecting the airway.
Swallowing difficulties can occur at any time during the lifespan and may be short or long term.
The most common causes of dysphagia are related to underlying medical or physical conditions resulting from lifelong disorders (such as cerebral palsy) or acquired conditions (such as stroke, head injuries or progressive disease).
The muscles involved in chewing and swallowing can become weak, slow and uncoordinated, and because of this, swallowing can take a long time and food and fluids may not feel like they are going down the right way.
The individual may not be able to eat and drink enough, resulting in weight loss which in turn can cause an individual to feel weak and tired.
To ease these symptoms and distress, alternative ways to provide nutrition and hydration may be considered, often involving the insertion of a tube into the stomach (gastrostomy tube).
The decision to have a tube inserted for non-oral feeding is often a complex one and made after discussion between the individual, family members and a team of healthcare professionals including doctors, dietitians, and speech pathologists.
A dietitian can assist with this decision making and provide advice around nutrition and hydration requirements.
Depending on the individual’s circumstances and the extent of their swallowing difficulties, it may be possible to maintain or reintroduce some form of eating and drinking or oral tastes for pleasure even with the feeding tube in place. This decision will be guided by the person’s medical state and the severity of their dysphagia.
A dietitian and speech pathologist will often work together with the person and their medical team to look at what hydration and/or nutrition can be taken in orally and what is best given via the feeding tube.
A speech pathologist can provide advice around positioning and oral hygiene to further reduce these risks.
Although considering non-oral feeding can feel like a big decision, our team of speech pathologists and dietitians can work with you to provide support and guidance.”
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