Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab

What are Swallowing Disorders?

People swallow about 600 times per day but most of us never think about it, unless something goes wrong. Swallowing is a complex process involving over 25 pairs of muscles and co-ordination with our respiratory system.

Dysphagia (dis FAY juh) is the term used to describe swallowing impairment. A swallowing problem can occur anywhere from the mouth to the stomach. There are multiple causes of swallowing impairment including stroke, brain injury, progressive illness, and structural changes. Dysphagia is estimated to affect 8% of the world’s population, making it more common than diabetes.

The negative health consequences of dysphagia include poor nutrition, dehydration, weight loss, and aspiration (food or drink going into the lungs), which can cause pneumonia.

Signs and symptoms of dysphagia include:

  • coughing or choking during or after meals,
  • feeling as if food is stuck in the throat or chest,
  • recurring chest infections,
  • unintentional weight loss, and
  • extra time or effort needed to finish a meal.

What do I do if I think I may have a Swallowing Disorder?

It is important to first contact your family doctor and describe your symptoms. Your family doctor can help determine if there is a need for a swallowing assessment or other testing. If a swallowing assessment is recommended they can make a referral to a speech-language pathologist or another medical specialist such as an ear-nose-and-throat doctor or a gastroenterologist. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are health care professionals who assess, manage, and treat swallowing disorders.

How can I find a Speech-Language Pathologist?

To find a speech-language pathologist who provides services in the area of swallowing, contact your local Speech-Language Pathology association or licensing body.

  • If you are in Ontario, contact CASLPO (the College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists of Ontario) or OSLA (the Ontario Association of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology Association)
  • If you are in Canada, contact SAC (Speech Language Audiology Canada)
  • If you are in the United States, contact the American Board on Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders or ASHA (American Speech-Language Hearing Association)
  • If you are looking for someone involved in swallowing research, contact DRS (Dysphagia Research Society)
  • If you are looking for support related to your swallowing disorder, contact the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders