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Ask A Speech Therapist: What is Dysphagia?

May 5, 2017 | By Lisa Schwenk
Published in: Question Answer, Stroke, Therapy

Patient holding her throat while drinking water

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. At Augusta Health, stroke care is coordinated through our Stroke Team, and multidisciplinary group that includes physicians, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, health educators and other medical professionals. The team focuses not just on the treatment of those who have experienced a stroke, but also on prevention of stroke through educating the community about symptoms and risk factors.

Claudia Koliscak
Claudia Koliscak, M.S., CCC-SLP

Answer provided by Claudia Koliscak, M.S., CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Augusta Health and member of the Augusta Health Stroke Team. She works primarily in outpatient and acute care. Claudia received a Master’s of Science from Radford University in 2009 and has worked with adults in medical settings for the past eight years. Claudia is certified through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and is also certified through the Virginia Board of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. She enjoys being involved with Augusta Health’s Stroke Team because she has a passion for providing quality neurological care and working in a multidisciplinary team with other medical professionals.

Entering the hospital treatment room, I say, "Hello there! I'm a Speech Therapist here at the hospital."

The standard reply I typically hear is, "Thank you, but my speech is fine."

"Indeed it is, though I'd like to spend some time talking to you about your difficulty swallowing."

Speech-Language Pathologists, often called "Speech Therapists", do more than just assess and treat people with speech disorders. Within our scope of practice, we also assess and treat language disorders, cognitive communication disorders, and swallowing problems.

Each year approximately one in twenty-five adults in the United States will experience a swallowing problem. Difficulty swallowing can present itself in many ways—including difficulty chewing food, squeezing the food down the throat, having food go down the wrong way, food getting stuck in the throat, or transferring the food to the stomach.

Difficulty swallowing, also called "dysphagia", is often a secondary symptom from damage to the nervous system such as a stroke or other neurological disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Other causes of dysphagia are problems affecting the head and neck such as cancer, injury or surgery.

Perhaps you or someone you know experience dysphagia from time to time. Maybe it occurs more often. If so, consider discussing your symptoms with your doctor, and if warranted, request a consultation from a Speech Therapist to help evaluate and diagnose your difficulty swallowing. Diagnosing dysphagia is often relatively simply. Typically, a formal swallowing evaluation is ordered where a quick x-ray or camera study will be performed. From there, immediate recommendations can be made and treatment options are known.

Speech therapists at Augusta Health offer services in the inpatient, outpatient, and home health settings. To schedule a consultation, call (540) 332-4033.