Stroke and Dysphagia
“I’m 33 and had a stroke 2 years ago. It took me 5 months to start speaking again. I received medical nutrition products and it’s safe to say that thanks to that I’ve regained my weight from before the stroke.
My goal with my physiotherapist is to walk again on my own. You can’t give up. You have to keep going. After all, it could have been worse."
How are stroke and dysphagia linked?
A stroke is distressing for both the patient and their family. It is caused by a disruption of the blood supply to a part of the brain, either by a blood clot (most common) or a weakened blood vessel. Strokes can result in problems with movement and balance, as well as a swallowing difficulty known as 'dysphagia'.
Dysphagia, which occurs in around half of stroke patients, can also be a side effect of the treatment of some forms of cancer, as well as neurological disorders such as dementia, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis. It can not only be an uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition, but also a potentially a dangerous one, with patients at risk of choking and of developing lung problems such as pneumonia.
Role of nutrition when experiencing swallowing difficulties
Swallowing difficulties can lead to increased anxiety at mealtimes. The risk of drinks or food ‘going down the wrong way’ leads to loss of enjoyment when eating or drinking with patients reducing their fluid and food intake out of worry. The levels of malnutrition and dehydration in stroke patients are high and can affect the recovery process.
It is important that stroke patients that have a nutritional risk are assessed by a qualified healthcare professional and, if necessary, have an appropriate nutritional management plan put in place to improve the chances of recovery.
An effective and widely used way of managing dysphagia is to change the consistency and texture of food and drinks. This makes it easier and safer for people with swallowing difficulties to control their swallow, significantly reducing the chance of food or fluids entering the lungs, and so ensuring they get the nutrition they need.
Texture modified diet in dysphagia
Safer, texture modified diets can be unappetizing as food needs to be blended to a specific consistency before it can be consumed. However, groups such as The Chef’s Council are working to improve the quality of life of people with dysphagia, creating recipes that are not only safer and nutritious but appetizing too.
- Clavé P, Shaker R. Dysphagia: current reality and scope of the problem. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015;12(5):259-70.