Swallowing Disorders Clinic

The Swallowing Disorders Clinic at Shepherd Center offers a comprehensive program for diagnosis and treatment of people who have mild to complex swallowing problems, known as dysphagia. Serious complications can include choking, malnutrition and lung infections, including pneumonia. Approximately 10 million people in the U.S. are evaluated each year for swallowing difficulties.

What Causes Dysphagia?

Swallowing problems can be caused by a number of things, such as stroke, brain injury or a spinal cord injury that has resulted in reduced coordination and movement of the swallowing mechanism. Because swallowing is a complex process, it's important to see an expert in speech-language pathology who specializes in swallowing disorders.

Swallowing Disorder Symptoms (When to Refer)

Signs and symptoms of dysphagia may include:

  • Frequent coughing, throat clearing associated with eating or drinking
  • Complaint of sensation that food is stuck in throat
  • Difficulty breathing and/or wheezing when eating or drinking
  • Unexplained, low-grade, persistent fever
  • Recurrent pneumonia and/or chest congestion
  • Unexplained weight loss and/or dehydration or malnutrition

Associated Conditions That May Cause Swallowing Issues

Patients who may be appropriate for the program could be experiencing swallowing problems secondary to:

  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Brain Injury
  • Stroke
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Transverse Myelitis
  • Head/Neck Surgery
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • Mechanical Ventilation or Tracheostomy
  • GERD or Reflux
  • Inflammatory myopathies such as dermatomyositis and ployositis
  • Esophageal strictures, achalasia, diffuse esophageal spasm, scleroderma

Diagnosis and Treatment of Swallowing Disorders

Shepherd Center uses advanced equipment to determine what is causing your swallowing difficulties and how they can be treated. Specific assessment and treatment modalities may include:

  • Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) study or Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES)
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation and surface EMG for biofeedback to enhance use of traditional swallowing exercises for increased strength and range of motion
  • Referrals to ear, nose and throat specialists for assessment of vocal cord functioning or to a gastro-intestinal physician for dilatation or endoscopy to assess esophageal motility
  • Nutritional consult and diet education
  • Specialized Seating and Positioning
  • Written report to include interpretation of completed assessments, treatment plan and appropriate referrals