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What is Dysphagia?

Swallowing disorders involve difficulty moving food or liquids from the mouth to the oesophagus. These disorders are known medically as dysphagia and are included in the World Health Organization’s classification of diseases.

Overall, five percent of the general population have dysphagia. This percentage is much higher among the elderly and in people with conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and head and neck cancer. Swallowing and feeding difficulties are also prevalent in certain paediatric populations. See dysphagia prevalence rates for specific clinical populations below.

Clinical Population

Prevalence

Reference

Adults with head and neck cancer

50%

Garcia-Peris and colleagues, 2007

Adults with dementia

13-57%

Bhanji, and Kurian, 2013 

Adults withParkinson's disease

35-82%

Kalfe, de Swart, Bloem, and Munneke, 2011

Adults with Acute stroke

78%

Martino et al, 2008

Adults with mental health illnesses

32%

Regan, Sowman & Walsh, 2006

Adults with motor neuron disease

80%

Simonds, 2016

Residents in long terms care settings

68%

Steele, Greenwood, Ens, Robertson, & Seidman-Carlson, 1997

Elderly populations receiving inpatient medical treatment

30%

Layne, Losinski, Zenner, & Ament, 1989

Preschool children with cerebral palsy 85% Benfer et al, 2013
Children with Down Syndrome 31-80% Field et al, 2003; Smith et al, 2014

Complications of Dysphagia

Swallowing difficulties can have a major impact on quality of life for individuals and their carers. Dysphagia can interfere with routines of eating and drinking that can normally be taken for granted. Dysphagia can also lead to serious choking episodes, recurrent pneumonias, malnutrition, and dehydration.  Overall mortality rate ranges from 20% to 50% with rates as high as 80% reported in some groups. 

From a healthcare perspective, swallowing difficulties are associated with increased hospital admissions, antibiotic cover, feeding tube insertions and prolonged inpatient stays. Dysphagia is also associated with high cost for medical facilities.

Why Research Dysphagia?

Despite its prevalence and the impact it has on so many aspects of daily life as well as on health and wellbeing, dysphagia remains under diagnosed and untreated in many medical centres worldwide. The treatment of swallowing difficulties is advancing internationally but high quality research is urgently required in this area.

The aim of the Trinity College Dublin Dysphagia Centre is to advance the clinical evaluation and treatment of people with swallowing disorders with an aim to improve clinical, healthcare and quality of life outcomes.

See our Research for more details.