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Swallowing Problems (Dysphagia)

What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is any difficulty in swallowing or the inability to swallow safely.  It includes conditions that lead to reduced oral nutritional intake such that it is difficult to maintain adequate nutrition, hydration, and physical well-being.  Dysphagia can also be described as any dysfunction in the phases of swallowing (e.g. oral phase, pharyngeal phase, and esophageal phase)

Why care about Dysphagia?

Normal swallowing is an essential part of healthy and pleasurable living. Dysphagia can also lead to serious medical complications due to poor nutritional state and aspiration pneumonia.

How prevalent is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is the 6th leading cause of death in the USA! 500,000 hospital admissions a year are due to aspiration pneumonia or its complications.  A significant number of people in nursing homes have undiagnosed dysphagia.  The elderly and the very infirm have very little pulmonary (lung) reserve to fight infections and aspiration pneumonia often leads to spiraling of illnesses towards major infection (sepsis) and death.

How is Dysphagia treated?

Treatment of dysphagia starts with careful assessment of the cause and severity of the swallowing problem.  Appropriate treatment is then offered.  This requires clinicians with extensive experience, specialized equipment, and ready availability of a multidisciplinary team.  The physicians of the UCLA Department of Head and Neck Surgery specialize in the management of swallowing organs, and the Swallowing Disorders Center has the unique experience, skills and dedicated facility with the goal of comprehensive management of patients with all swallowing problems.

 

For additional information, visit the Swallowing Disorders Center webpage.

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