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June is National Dysphagia Awareness Month in the United States

Monday, June 17, 2019  
Posted by: DRS

On September 27, 2008, Congress passed a bipartisan statute to declare June as National Dysphagia Awareness Month. Dysphagia Awareness Month provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the causes, assessment, management and impact of feeding and swallowing disorders affecting the entire lifespan. Learn more about dysphagia and help spread awareness by reading and sharing the information provided below.


What is dysphagia?

Swallowing is something we all take for granted. We eat and drink with little thought as to how food and fluids pass from our mouth to our stomach. In fact, swallowing is one of the most complex actions we perform, involving more than 30 muscles and nerves. The average person swallows approximately 600 times per day – about 350 times while awake, 200 times while eating, and around 50 times while asleep.

Most of us swallow without much consideration or effort. However, for many individuals, this is not the case. Dysphagia indicates any difficulty or problem with swallowing normally (dys– disordered and phagia– swallowing). A swallowing disorder not only affects safety but also quality of life. Dysphagia is a serious medical condition that affects between 300,000 and 600,000 individuals in the United States each year. However, many individuals are unaware that dysphagia exists, unless a problem occurs.

Common signs and symptoms of dysphagia include - difficulty with weight gain (in children), unintentional weight loss (in adults), coughing during eating/drinking, recurrent aspiration pneumonia, food/liquid coming out of nose/mouth, and feeling of food remaining “stuck” in throat/upper chest, to name a few.

Dysphagia is associated with a wide variety of conditions, including congenital and developmental disorders (e.g., cleft lip/palate, Down syndrome), head and neck cancers, pulmonary conditions (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and a variety of neurologic conditions such as stroke, dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and many more. Since it is a common symptom in many of these diseases, it often goes unnoticed and is often under reported, despite having significant consequences.

Complications and consequences of dysphagia include pulmonary aspiration, malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia and even death.. In hospitalized patients, dysphagia has been shown to significantly lengthen the hospital length of stay and is a negative prognostic indicator. In addition, those with dysphagia often report a feeling of isolation and depression, as many are no longer able to take part in social gatherings that are so often centered around eating and drinking. Swallowing disorders also represent a substantial economic and societal burden. It is estimated that dysphagia is responsible for between $4.3 to $7.1 billion in additional hospital costs per year. Despite the significant detrimental impact dysphagia has on health and quality of life, only a third of those afflicted seek medical treatment.

Care of dysphagia requires multidisciplinary efforts from various disciplines, including (but not limited to) speech-language pathology (SLP), dietary/nutrition services, primary care, gastroenterology, otolaryngology (ENT), and nursing. Additional healthcare professionals involved in dysphagia management may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, neurology, pulmonary, geriatrics, and palliative care.

Assessment of dysphagia frequently includes a clinical assessment and instrumental assessment. A clinical bedside swallow assessment is typically completed by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and is used to describe the characteristics of the individual’s swallow function, determine the presence/absence and characteristics of a swallowing disorder, determine the safest route of nutrition/hydration and help provide additional recommendations for an instrumental assessment and appropriate treatment. The two most common instrumental assessments are fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) and modified barium swallow study (MBSS). FEES utilizes a camera inserted through the nose to directly visualize the pharynx (throat) while the individual swallows various liquids and foods provided. An MBSS also called a videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) is a real-time X-ray procedure completed in partnership with radiology professionals. An individual may be asked to swallow various liquids and food mixed with barium, which is a substance that allows the clinician to observe how the swallowed material travels from the mouth into the esophagus.

Once a diagnosis of dysphagia has been made, the healthcare team determines the most appropriate plan for treatment. Management of dysphagia may involve medical/surgical intervention by a physician and/or behavioral intervention by an SLP. The focus of any dysphagia intervention is to optimize the swallow to be as safe and efficient as possible, as well as to maximize the patient’s quality of life.


Why should we raise dysphagia awareness?

Raising awareness about swallowing disorders is important for several reasons:

  • To support those with dysphagia as well as their loved ones and caregivers
  • To help those with dysphagia seek appropriate care
  • To help educate the community regarding common signs and symptoms of dysphagia, as well as current assessment and treatment options available
  • To promote early identification of dysphagia in children and adults
  • To help fund research efforts.

Please help us raise awareness this National Dysphagia Awareness Month by engaging with us on Twitter @official_DRS or Facebook and sharing our posts.

You can also raise awareness by:

Because swallowing is a function that happens so often and easily for most people, it is often overlooked or dismissed; however, there is a community of researchers, clinicians and individuals who are working tirelessly to make swallowing less difficult for affected individuals.

Take some time this June to reflect on the impact dysphagia has for those affected by it, the professionals who work to diagnose and treat it, and the researchers who are continuously working towards improving the lives of patients with dysphagia.

Thank you for helping us give dysphagia a voice.



 Altman, K. W., Yu, G. P., & Schaefer, S. D. (2010). Consequence of dysphagia in the hospitalized patient: Impact on prognosis and hospital resources. Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, 136, 784–789.

Barczi, S. R., Sullivan, P. A., & Robbins, J. (2000). How should dysphagia care of older adults differ? Establishing optimal practice patterns. Seminars in Speech and Language Pathology, 21,347–361.

Bhattacharyya, N. (2014). The prevalence of dysphagia among adults in the United States. Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, 151, 765–769.

Groher, M. E., & Crary, M. A. (2010). Dysphagia: Clinical management in adults and children. Atlanta, GA: Mosby Elsevier.

Ekberg, O., Hamdy, S., Woisard, V., Wuttge–Hannig, A., & Ortega, P. (2002). Social and psychological burden of dysphagia: its impact on diagnosis and treatment. Dysphagia17(2), 139-146.

Logemann, J. A. (1998). Evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders (2nd ed.). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Matsuo, K., & Palmer, J. B. (2008). Anatomy and physiology of feeding and swallowing: Normal and abnormal. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 19, 691–707.

National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders. (n.d.). Swallowing disorder basics. Retrieved from

Roden, D. F., & Altman, K. W. (2013). Causes of dysphagia among different age groups: A systematic review of the literature. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America46, 965–987.

Patel, D. A., Krishnaswami, S., Steger, E., Conover, E., Vaezi, M. F., Ciucci, M. R., & Francis, D. O. (2017). Economic and survival burden of dysphagia among inpatients in the United States. Diseases of the Esophagus31(1), dox131.

Sura, L., Madhavan, A., Carnaby, G., & Crary, M. A. (2012). Dysphagia in the elderly: Management and nutritional considerations. Clinical Intervention and Aging, 7, 287–298.

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