Adult Dysphagia

The scope of this page is swallowing disorders in adults (18+).

See the Dysphagia evidence map for summaries of the available research on this topic.

A swallowing disorder, known as dysphagia, may occur as a result of various medical conditions. Dysphagia is defined as problems involving the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, or gastroesophageal junction.

Models of swallowing function may represent the biomechanics of swallow function and bolus movement for liquids or may discuss physiological activity for liquid and solids (see, e.g., Logemann, 1998; Matsuo & Palmer, 2008). Clinicians consider each model relative to patient performance when assessing swallow function.

Malnutrition and dehydration, aspiration pneumonia, compromised general health, chronic lung disease, choking, and even death may be a consequence of dysphagia. Morbidity related to dysphagia is a major concern. Adults with dysphagia may also experience (a) disinterest and/or less enjoyment of eating or drinking and/or (b) embarrassment or isolation in social situations involving eating. Dysphagia may increase caregiver burden and may require significant lifestyle alterations for the patient and the patient's family.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) with appropriate training and competence are involved in the diagnosis and management of oral and pharyngeal dysphagia.  SLPs also recognize causes and signs/symptoms of esophageal dysphagia and make appropriate referrals for its diagnosis and management. They are integral members of an interprofessional team. The SLP's specific role and level of involvement may vary for each clinician and across patients, work settings, and institutions.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.