Dysphagia 101

What is Dysphagia? 

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties. Dysphagia is associated with a wide variety of medical conditions and is commonly under-diagnosed, which can lead to poor health outcomes and decreased quality of life. 

What Causes Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is often caused by an illness, condition or disease that affects the nerves and muscles in the tongue, mouth and throat, and leads to problems coordinating and/or controlling the swallow. The list below contains some, but not all, possible causes for dysphagia.

Stroke, dementia, neuromuscular and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Dysphagia may have underlying mechanical causes. For example, abnormal growths or structural changes in the esophagus may cause dysphagia. In some cases, dysphagia can be caused by inflammation or chronic gastric reflux disorders.
Head and spinal cord injuries, as well as some head and neck cancers may cause dysphagia. Some people who are undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancer may also develop dysphagia.
Causes of dysphagia may also be different for people of different age groups. Children may experience dysphagia if they have cerebral palsy or developmental disabilities. In older adults, swallowing problems may be caused by other issues, such as dry mouth, weakness and general frailty, including changes to nerve and muscle function with age.

Learn more about Dysphagia

Dysphagia Prevalence Infographics

ALS = amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; DMD = Duchenne muscular dystrophy References: 1.Ortega O et al. JAMDA, 2017; 18: 576-582. 2.Serra-Prat M et al. Age Aging, 2012; 41(3): 376-381. 3.Werstuck-MacDonald M Steele C. Can J Diet Pract Res, e-First (open access), April 20, 2021. 4.Carrion S et al. Clin Nutrition, 2017; 36(4):1110-1116. 5.Vucea V et al. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018; 22(8): 916-922. 6.Takizawa C et al. Dysphagia, 2016; 31: 434–441. 7.Cabre M et al. Age and Ageing, 2010; 39: 39–45 8.Lindh M G et al. International Journal of COPD, 2017;12: 331-337. 9.Langmore SE et al. Head Neck, 2016; 38(Suppl 1): E1221–E1231. 10.Michel A et al. JAMDA, 2018; 19: 770-774. 11.Warnecke T et al. Z Gerontol Geriat, 2019; 52: 330–335. 12.Audag N et al. Ther Adv Chronic Dis, 2019; 10: 1–15.

Aspiration Pneumonia
Compromised quality of life
Economic costs

Up to 50% of patients with dysphagia are malnourished or at nutrition risk1,2

1 Serra-Prat M et al. Age Aging, 2012; 41(3):376-381.

2 Carrion S et al. Clin Nutrition, 2017; 36(4):1110-1116.

Dehydration is a common finding for individuals with dysphagia3

3 Cichero J. Regulatory Focus. June 2019. Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

Dysphagia may result in pneumonia in 50% of cases, with an associated mortality up to 50%4 Dysphagia and aspiration are more common in older patients with pneumonia than once believed5

4 Clave P et al. Rev Esp Enferm Dig, 2004; 96: 119-131.

5 Ortega O et al. JAMDA, 2017; 18: 576-582.

Dysphagia results in a significant and psychological burden for both patients and families6

6 Miller N & Patterson J. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 2014; 24: 41-57.

The presence of dysphagia may add 40% to healthcare costs7 Hospital length of stay increases by 40% in patients admitted with dysphagia6

6 Miller N & Patterson J. Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 2014; 24: 41-57.

7 McGinnis CM et al. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2019; 34 (1): 80-95.

How to Recognize Signs and Symptoms

The validated Eating Assessment Tool (EAT-10) is a symptom specific tool to help measure swallowing difficulties. It has 10 questions and can be completed in as little as 2 minutes.

This simple tool can be completed by the patient, a family member/caregiver or together with their healthcare provider.

Access the EAT-10 Eating Assessment Tool

Dysphagia: Understanding & Recognizing Swallowing Difficulties

  • In this 12 minute educational video, Registered Dietitian Peter Lam discusses the prevalence, signs and symptoms, and clinical consequences of unmanaged dysphagia. Peter includes an overview of basic swallowing physiology, available screening tools, methods of assessment and current management practices. 

Recorded in 2017