What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the term used to describe difficulty swallowing. It is not a disease itself, but rather it occurs as a consequence of various diseases or conditions. Dysphagia occurs when a disease, or its treatment, affects the muscles or nerves that are required to swallow. This causes a lack of co-ordination in the usual swallowing process and, in some cases if unmanaged, food and fluids may go down the wrong way. This may cause aspiration and can be very serious as it can cause a chest infection. Some of the diseases or conditions which may cause dysphagia include: stroke, trauma, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Huntington's disease, dementia, ageing, cerebral palsy, head and neck cancer, and learning disabilities.

How dysphagia affects nutrition 

Dysphagia can impact on a person's ability to consume adequate nutrition for a number of reasons, including: 

• The time taken to eat meals increases
• Self-restriction due fear of choking
• Loss of enjoyment and the social aspect of eating
• A dislike for texture modified food and fluids

As a result of these nutritional challenges, people who experience dysphagia can find it hard to get the nutrition they need, and malnutrition and dehydration can occur.

Dysphagia can be managed by modifying the texture of food and fluids, and/or by correct positioning during mealtimes or practicing strengthening exercises for the muscles involved in the swallowing process. These strategies aim to make the swallowing process safer and will be advised by a speech and language therapist (SLT).

How good nutrition can help those with dysphagia 

Food provides us with energy (calories) and nutrients which are the substances the body needs to enable us to function every day. No single food provides us with the right mixture of these nutrients which is why we need to try and eat a varied balanced diet to keep well.

Texture modified food and fluids are a big change to our usual diet in many ways, including the way they look and the way they feel in the mouth. They may also provide less energy (calories) and protein than our usual diet as they can become 'watered down' in the texture modification process. Good nutrition is important to avoid malnutrition and dehydration. Providing a variety of foods that have an appetising appearance and including additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals where possible can help to optimise nutritional intake. Providing a range of hot and cold drinks throughout the day can help to prevent dehydration.

How medical nutrition can help those with dysphagia 

Ensuring food and fluids are the correct texture is essential in the management of dysphagia. Food and fluid thickeners can be used to thicken drinks and pureed meals to the recommended consistency that has been prescribed by the speech and language therapist (SLT).

Consuming adequate food and fluids with dysphagia can be challenging. Healthcare professionals may prescribe pre-thickened oral nutritional supplements for those with dysphagia who cannot get adequate nutrition from diet alone. They come in a range of flavours and provide additional energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are available in stage 1 (syrup), stage 2 (custard) and stage 3 (pudding) consistencies. Pre-thickened oral nutritional supplements should be used alongside your diet to give the body a nutritional boost, which can help when facing the nutritional challenges of dysphagia.

Food and fluid thickeners and pre-thickened oral nutritional supplements are Foods for Special Medical Purposes for use in the dietary management of dysphagia/dysphagia and disease related malnutrition and must be used under medical supervision.


For more information on using thickeners go to www.mynutilis.co.uk