Swallowing Disorders: What Families Should Know!

A swallowing problem-dysphagia-is one of the many disorders that can occur as a result of a catastrophic illness or injury. The problem may be mild, or so severe that the patient cannot take nourishment by mouth and must be fed by other means.

In the presence of a life-threatening illness, a swallowing problem sometimes is considered of secondary importance. However, if the problem is not quickly recognized and safe swallowing guidelines are not strictly followed, the patient's recovery may be jeopardized.

When a patient has a swallowing disorder, there is always the danger that food or liquid will go into the lungs rather than into the stomach. This is known as aspiration. Aspiration in turn can cause pneumonia. The occurrence of another serious illness in an already debilitated person will complicated the patient's recovery, and in some cases lead to death. 

Families may have difficulty understanding why swallowing guidelines (such as withholding favorite foods or in some cases water) are necessary. This booklet will explain why swallowing precautions are recommended by the rehabilitation team and outline the family's role in helping the patient recover.

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