A swallowing disorder, more commonly referred to as dysphagia (dis-fah-jah), occurs when there is a problem with any part of the swallowing process from the mouth to the stomach. Some symptoms may include coughing and/or choking during or after swallowing, pain or a sensation of food getting stuck in the throat and shortness of breath while eating. Recent research has concluded that dysphagia effects as many as 15 million Americans, with 1 million being newly diagnosed each year.
Dysphagia can arise from a wide variety of causes including stroke, traumatic head or spinal cord injuries, head/neck/esophageal cancers, degenerative neurological conditions (Parkinson’s Disease, ALS, MS, Myasthenia Gravis), respiratory conditions (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and tracheotomies.
Dysphagia can have devastating side effects if not diagnosed and managed properly. The most severe is aspiration pneumonia, which is when saliva, food or liquid enters the airway and goes into the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is a serious condition and has been cited for being one of the leading causes of death among the elderly. Other side effects of dysphagia may include choking, weight loss, chronic malnutrition, bronchospasm, physical de-conditioning and depression.
There are a wide variety of treatment methods utilized to treat swallowing disorders but one that is highly supported by clinical research is VitalStim Therapy (VST), which is a modified form of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) that has been designed to specifically treat dysphagia through muscle re-education. NMES is a type of therapy that has been used for many years by physical therapists to retrain the larger muscles in the body, such as the arms and legs. VitalStim Therapy is the only NMES device that is cleared by the FDA as a “safe and effective” treatment method for swallowing disorders.
VST uses non-evasive small electrical currents to stimulate and re-educate the inactive or atrophied muscles of swallowing. This treatment is conducted by a trained speech-language pathologist and should be used in conjunction with traditional therapeutic methods. The only side effect reported with VST is minor redness or irritation of the skin where the electrodes were placed.
VitalStim Therapy is safe, effective, painless and clinically proven treatment method that can improve a person’s quality of life.