Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swallowing or paralysis of the throat muscles. This condition can make eating, drinking, taking medicine, and breathing difficult. Many stroke survivors experience dysphagia or trouble swallowing at some point after a stroke. Difficulty swallowing is most common immediately after a stroke, but usually declines over time.
- Difficulty starting to swallow
- Choking when food gets stuck
- Coughing or gagging while swallowing
- Liquid coming out of the nose after trying to swallow
- Food getting caught in the lungs
- Weak voice
- Poor tongue control
- Loss of gag reflex
Dysphagia should not be confused with painful swallowing or the constant feeling of a lump in the throat.
Exercising the tongue, lips, throat, and mouth can help relax and strengthen the muscles as well as increase their flexibility (examples include tucking the chin or rotating the head).
A speech language therapist can teach special exercises to stimulate the nerves involved in swallowing. These can include changing posture and sitting position, reducing distractions at mealtime, eating slower with smaller amounts of food, and changing food texture.
Some medications, such as muscle relaxers, can help open the throat and make swallowing easier.
Dehydration or not drinking enough is always a risk. Thin fluids, such as water, are harder to swallow changing the thickness with liquid thickeners can be helpful. Ask your healthcare professional for the best plan for your individual needs.
Learn more about dysphagia
Faces of Stroke and Dysphagia
Megan and Henry are stroke survivors that had dysphagia post-stroke. Read their stories below.
- Megan is a 31 year old stroke survivor. She suffered a stroke 2 weeks after her second child was born, when Megan was just 30 years old. Learn more about her stroke comeback and road to recovery from dysphagia.
- Henry discovered a way to improve his breath control and manage his dysphagia at the same time! It’s what he calls, “a happy accident!”
Download the dysphagia infographic to learn more about this post-stroke condition.