It is common to have trouble swallowing, also called dysphagia, after a stroke. You may not be able to feel food on one or both sides of your mouth. You may also have problems chewing or producing enough saliva. Or you may have other conditions that make eating difficult and increase your risk of choking or breathing in food or liquids (aspiration).
Other things that may interfere with normal eating include:
- Problems seeing or judging where things are, especially on the side of your body affected by the stroke.
- Problems recognizing familiar objects or remembering how to do everyday things.
- Paralysis or weakness or trouble controlling movements (apraxia).
- Problems with smell, taste, or the sense of feeling.
- Depression, which can cause a loss of appetite and requires treatment.
If you have eating problems after a stroke, you will need a thorough evaluation by a speech therapist or another rehabilitation specialist. You may need special X-rays to see how you are swallowing. As you recover from a stroke, your rehabilitation team will monitor your progress. Swallowing and eating problems often improve over time, but some may last for the rest of your life. But there are many things you can do to make eating easier.
How do I manage eating problems?
Work with your speech therapist or other health professional to find out what help you need. The following are some tips for eating and swallowing safely:
During meals and snacks, remember to:
- Eat when you are rested and at your best. If you become tired with larger meals, eat small, frequent meals.
- Sit as upright as possible. In some cases, your swallowing team will recommend a different position.
- Avoid distractions (such as watching TV) and talking.
- Allow enough time for meals so that you are not rushed.
- Take small bites and sips. Finish each bite or sip before taking the next.
- Stay upright for at least 30 minutes after meals and snacks.
If your therapist prescribes different food or fluid consistencies, remember to:
- Eat and drink the food and fluid consistencies recommended by your rehab team.
- Follow the thickening instructions given by your rehab team (if appropriate).
- Take your medicines one at a time with the food or fluid consistency recommended by your rehab team. Your rehab team may also recommend that you crush the pills. Check with your pharmacist before crushing or breaking medicines.
For mouth care after a stroke:
- Remember to brush your teeth, tongue, gums, and cheeks twice a day, even if you wear dentures. Regular mouth care helps control the growth of bacteria in your mouth. This can lower your risk for a lung infection (pneumonia).
Other Works Consulted
- Winstein CJ, et al. (2016). Guidelines for adult stroke rehabilitation and recovery: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke, published online May 4, 2016. DOI: 10.1161/STR.0000000000000098. Accessed June 3, 2016.