Difficulty swallowing, called dysphagia, can happen at any stage of Parkinson disease. Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include: difficulty swallowing certain foods or liquids, coughing or throat clearing during or after eating/drinking, and feeling as if food is getting stuck. As the disease progresses, swallowing can become severely compromised and food/liquid can get into the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia.
Eating and Swallowing
Some of the signs of dysphagia are:
- Having pain while swallowing (odynophagia)
- Being unable to swallow
- Having the sensation of food getting stuck in your throat or chest or behind your breastbone (sternum)
- Being hoarse
- Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
- Having frequent heartburn
- Having food or stomach acid back up into your throat
- Unexpectedly losing weight
- Coughing or gagging when swallowing
- Having to cut food into smaller pieces or avoiding certain foods because of trouble swallowing
Strategies to overcome swallowing problems include:
The way you sit, the foods you eat, and how you eat can affect your ability to swallow. To use your posture to make chewing and swallowing easier, you can:
- Sit upright at a 90-degree angle.
- Avoid talking whilst chewing and swallowing
- Diet changes (thickening liquids, making foods softer)
- Tilt your head slightly forward.
- Take small mouthfuls and sips
- Stay seated or standing for 15-20 minutes after you eat a meal.
A person with dysphagia is at risk of weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration and should seek assistance.
Several health professionals can assist with Dysphagia symptoms including your GP, Neurologist, Speech Pathologist, Occupational Therapist and Physiotherapist. A speech pathologist can provide recommendations for swallowing management and may teach exercises, strategies and techniques for safe and optimal chewing and swallowing, specific to individual needs. A physiotherapist can assist with finding solutions for postural issues and an occupational therapist can assist with seating recommendations for mealtime, aids and equipment and techniques for using cutlery.