Weldon Speech Pathologists evaluate and treat a broad range of swallowing problems. Many of the same muscle systems of the mouth and throat that are involved in speaking are also muscles that are used for eating and swallowing. Speech Pathologists are specially trained to work with these muscles for both speaking and swallowing functions.
Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing. This can involve problems with the “oral phase” meaning the ability to take in, chew, and move the food to the throat to be swallowed. The “pharyngeal phase” would include problems actually swallowing the food, such as food feeling “stuck” in the throat or food “going down the wrong way”. A person can have problems in just one or in both areas. Everyone has these problems on rare occasions, but if they occur frequently they can result in reduced nutrition and hydration or respiratory problems such as pneumonia.
There are many causes of dysphagia, but some of the most common are: neurologic disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, MS; cancer of the mouth or throat, injury to the mouth or throat, surgery involving the throat or digestive system.
Clinical Swallow Evaluation
This is often the first evaluation requested for dysphagia. It involves a records review, interview about the problem, and evaluation of the muscle systems of the mouth and throat including swallowing liquids and solids if appropriate.
Videofluroscopic Swallow Evaluation (VFSE)
This may be recommended following a Clinical Swallow Evaluation if more detailed information about swallow function is needed. This test is done in the Imaging Department of Mercy Hospital with both the Speech Pathologist and Radiologist working as a team. Different consistencies of foods and liquids containing Barium are swallowed as video x-rays are taken. This allows evaluation of the inner muscle systems for structural changes and how they function during the swallow process. You may have heard this call a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS).
Based on the findings of the Clinical Swallow Evaluation and/or the VFSE, you may be referred for further testing by a specialist such as a gastroenterologist, otolaryngologist, or neurologist. It may also be recommended that you be seen for Swallowing Treatment with a Speech Pathologist to improve swallow function. This includes specific swallowing exercises to improve muscle function, use of E-stim to help strengthen swallow muscles, strategies to compensate for chronic problems, as well as extensive education about swallow function specific to your needs.
Head and Neck Cancer
Patient’s with cancer involving the mouth or throat can experience significant changes in their ability to eat and drink. We have Speech Pathologists with extensive training in this specialized area who will work with you and your medical team to help you maintain or return to eating and drinking based on your individual medical situation and needs.