What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing problems. It's used to describe a swallowing disorder usually caused by neurological or physical impairments of someone's swallowing mechanism. 

Dysphagia is found across all our service user groups, with increased risks presenting for service users with a learning disability, history of stroke, progressive neurological condition, complex mental health problems and head injuries.

  • 32% of people with Alzheimer's disease
  • 15% of people with a learning disability
  • 25% of people with a traumatic brain injury
  • 95% of people with motor neurone disease

Without proper management, dysphagia can increase someone's risk of:

  • Developing a respiratory infection
  • Choking and even death
  • Having poor nutrition
  • Becoming dehydrated
  • Weight loss
  • Having poor health and oral health
  • Developing anxiety 
  • Needing to be admitted to hospital 
  • Having a reduced quality of life

  • Coughing or choking while eating or drinking 
  • Bringing food back up 
  • A sensation that food is stuck in your throat 
  • Drooling of saliva  
  • Change in breathing rate while eating or drinking

The Trust has a dysphagia procedure to promote the safe and effective management of service users who have problems with swallowing eating and drinking. Clinical staff should familiarise themselves with the procedure.

If you are supporting a service user who is having difficulties with eating, drinking and swallowing, you can refer them to the Trust's dysphagia practitioners for support using the team referral form. Referrals are accepted based on the individual service's eligibility criteria.  

Our dysphagia practitioners are here to provide assessment, advice, support and intervention for people with swallowing difficulties. We aim to improve the quality of life for patients and where possible improve function and independence within the community.
A dysphagia practitioner is usually a speech and language therapist, but can include other specifically trained professionals such as nurses and physiotherapists.  

We also have an Allied Health Professional (AHP) Dysphagia Lead, whose role it is to provide strategic leadership in relation to dysphagia management across our Trust. Our AHP Dysphagia Lead is Krystina Crolla-Barker and if you have any further comments or questions please don't hesitate to contact her by email at krystina.crolla-barker@nwbh.nhs.uk.

​International Dysphagia Diet Standardised initiative (IDDSI) have published international standardised terminology and definitions for texture modified foods and thickened liquids for people with dysphagia, and both the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the British Dietetic Association have announced that they will be supporting the adoption of the new framework.

The new IDDSI standards came into play on 1 April 2018. Below you can view the new standards for foods and drinks.

Graphic depicting IDDSI standards

This short animation outlines safe terminology to describe thickness and texture of modified food, and how this will help to prevent the risk of patients with chewing or swallowing difficulties coming to harm if given inappropriate food. 

For more information, email nutritionandhydration@nwbh.nhs.uk