Doctors describe dysphagia as difficulty when swallowing. The condition starts at different sections of the GI tract, including the mouth, esophageal sphincter, and pharynx. Diagnosing the patient begins with ruling out odynophagia and globus sensation. Odynophagia produces pain and is connected to an infection, and globus sensation is simply the feeling that food is stuck in the throat. Acid reflux disease is another probability that causes the condition. After diagnosing, doctors treat dysphagia with electrical stimulation. But, how effective is the treatment?

What is Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation?

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation involves the placement of electrodes on the skin of the throat. The electrodes send electrical impulses directly to the swallowing muscles. The doctor begins by placing the electrodes in a specific order. First, an electrode is applied to the thyroid notch, then the next is situated just above the first. Next, another electrode is applied to the thyroid cartilage, and the last is placed just below it.

The clinician administers the impulses at different intensities and discovers which is best for the patient. After identifying the right intensity, the doctor performs the treatment until the symptoms subside, and the patient’s prognosis improves. The patient exercises the swallowing muscles during the treatment as directed by their doctor.

What is the Purpose of Electrical Stimulation?

The electrical stimulation treatment strengthens the swallowing muscles. The achievement helps the patient swallow their food and beverages more effectively. It also accelerates cortical reorganization which is the production of a new cortical map. Remapping is vital especially for patients who have experienced a stroke. Using electrical stimulation also improves the effects of exercise therapy for the throat.

Are There Side Effects?

No, the American Medical Association has findings from studies performed by speech and language pathologists involving over 800 patients. The patients included in the study also had cardiovascular disease and pacemakers. The results of the study showed no side effects. The study also determined that stimulation didn’t interfere with pacemakers, cause bradycardia, or lead to sudden spasms in the throat.

Reviewing Statistics for the Treatment

According to statistics, dysphagia happens after a stroke in about 65% cases. In studies evaluating NMES treatments, clinicians used a thin liquid with the same consistency as pudding. Products such as Simply Thick are often used by clinicians to perform the treatments. The consistency is necessary to test the patient’s ability to swallow. Aspiration of the liquids leads stops the test completely until the next scheduled treatment.

Each patient completes specific swallowing activities during each session. The purpose is to gauge the strength of the throat muscles. A continuation of the NMES testing and use of the liquids help the patients regain their ability to swallow properly without issues.

How Effective is the Treatment?

According to the studies, patients who have experienced a stroke yield the best result from the treatment. However, this doesn’t indicate other patients won’t show signs of improvement with their dysphagia. The studies conducted by the Southern Illinois University Carbondale present only a 27% rate of failure for patients involved in the clinical trials. It also shows that 57% of the patients who underwent NMES treatments acquire their full ability to swallow.

In conclusion, physical therapists and speech and language pathologists use NMES to treat dysphagia quite often. During the tests, patients swallow a liquid with the consistency of pudding to complete necessary exercises. The results indicate if performed correctly the treatment presents effective results and rates show that at least 57% of patients were treated successfully.

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