HRMC Offers Help for Swallowing Disorders
February 11, 2016
HURON, S.D. – Difficulty swallowing, called dysphagia, impacts as many as 15 million Americans, leaving them with little hope of a normal quality of life. That is, until the introduction of a neuromuscular electoral stimulation and exercise therapy called VitalStim®, according to Kris Gohn, a certified speech-language therapist at Huron Regional Medical Center.
“VitalStim® Therapy is a non-invasive electrical stimulation therapy that re-educates the throat muscles needed for swallowing,” explained Gohn. “In conjunction with swallowing exercises, the therapy speeds the recovery of those with swallowing problems.”
HRMC purchased the portable electrotherapy system in November and Gohn received specialized training to become certified in delivering the therapy to her patients.
One in 17 people will develop some form of dysphagia in their lifetime, including 50 to 75 percent of stroke patients and 60 to 70 percent of patients who undergo radiation therapy. Swallowing disorders can also be caused by neuromuscular disease processes like Parkinson’s disease and ALS or deconditioning as a result of age or other chronic medical conditions.
“Before VitalStim® we used a combination of exercises which provided improvement in some cases,” said Gohn. “This therapy is far and away more effective in actually improving the swallowing function – allowing patients to eat and communicate and enjoy the things in life so many of us take for granted.”
The 45-minute sessions begin with the electrodes placed on the skin at specific points on the patient’s throat while feeding practice and other exercises are performed. Therapy sessions are repeated daily (or almost every day), until the patient’s swallowing patterns have been restored to the desired level.
“Patients frequently see dramatic improvement in six to 20 daily sessions,” explained Gohn. “Sometimes we see improvement in as little as three days.”
Candidates for VitalStim® therapy include patients who show signs or are at risk for aspiration or have difficulty eating. Symptoms include:
- Coughing or clearing throat after swallow
- Decreased voice quality (e.g. wet, horse, weak)
- Recurring chest infections
- Requires multiple swallows or special maneuvers to clear throat
- Difficulty completing a meal
- Feeling of food being stuck in throat
- Requires diet to modified (e.g. thickening, pureed, soft solids)
- Difficulty initiating a swallow
- Spillage of food or liquid from lips or drooling
For more information on whether or not you or a loved one could benefit from VitalStim® Therapy, call HRMC’s speech language department at 605-353-6201 or talk with your healthcare provider.
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