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Small Study Shows Benefits of Strategies to Improve Swallowing in People with MS

February 27, 2019

SUMMARY
  • In a study of 20 people with MS, strategies to improve swallowing (focusing on coordination, sensory input and range of motion) resulted in better, lasting improvements, compared to just changing body position and food consistency.
  • Problems with swallowing can occur in people with MS, and can have a significant impact on health and quality of life. This study illustrates that addressing swallowing with specific exercises – and even, to some extent – dietary and postural changes, can reduce these difficulties. Read more about swallowing problems and available treatments
  • The team (Maryam Tarameshlua, Ahmad Reza Khatoonabadi, PhD, and colleagues, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran) published their findings in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2019 Jan;23(1):171-176). 
DETAILS
Background: Dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing, can occur as a symptom of MS. While more frequent in advanced disease, it can occur at any stage. Some factors that can contribute to these difficulties include muscle spasms, weakness, decreased sensation, MS-related fatigue, and certain medications.
 
The Study: Participants with MS were randomly assigned to one of two groups:
  • One group received traditional dysphagia therapy, which involves strategies designed to improve coordination, sensory input and range of motion during swallowing (for example, stretching tongue muscles to improve range of motion, or clearing the throat after each bite/sip).
  • The other group received “usual care,” which included postural changes or dietary strategies (for example, modifying volume of food or changing food consistency).
Swallowing ability was measured before treatment, at the end of nine sessions of treatment, at the end of 18 sessions, and then six weeks after the end of treatment.
 
Results: Swallowing ability improved significantly in both groups at the end of nine and 18 sessions of treatment. However, scores were significantly better in the traditional dysphagia therapy group. Six weeks after the end of treatment, swallowing ability in the traditional dysphagia therapy group remained improved, but swallowing ability in the usual care group had worsened. Other measures used to determine impairments in swallowing improved significantly more in the traditional dysphagia therapy group than in the usual care group.
 
The team (Maryam Tarameshlua, Ahmad Reza Khatoonabadi, PhD, and colleagues, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran) published their findings in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2019 Jan;23(1):171-176).
 
Conclusions: Problems with swallowing can occur in people with MS, and can have a significant impact on health and quality of life. This study illustrates that addressing swallowing with specific exercises – and even, to some extent – dietary and postural changes, can reduce these difficulties.
 
Read More
Read more about swallowing problems and available treatments

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

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