A dysphagia diet is specially designed for people who suffer from dysphagia, a condition characterized by physical problems that arise when patients try to chew or swallow food or liquid. A dysphagia diet tailored to a patient’s particular needs can help in several ways. As eating and drinking can be so difficult, dysphagiacs may not consume the right amount of nutritional calories; another potential problem is dehydration. This type of diet usually addresses both concerns.
There are five levels to the dysphagia diet, which are assigned based on the cause of the condition and its severity. At the first level, all food is pureed. At the other end of the spectrum is a level five diet; at this level, some foods are minimally modified, while others aren't changed at all.
Patients practicing a dysphagia diet experience beneficial nutritional support. This type of diet can also help a patient progress and relearn the functions involved with chewing and swallowing. By helping them regain control of this vital process, patients can also begin the manage the disorder itself.
In most people, the process of chewing and swallowing is largely automatic. A number of mechanisms occur simultaneously or in very close order: The nasal airway is closed off by the soft palate, breathing tubes into the lungs close, and the esophagus permits food or drink to flow into it. The esophagus pulses, pulling the food toward the stomach for digestion. In dysphagiacs, this process is interrupted at some point.
Whether consumption of food or liquid is the greater problem depends in part upon the type of dysphagia. For those with esophageal dysphagia, food or drink gets stuck in the esophagus. Whether the problem is caused by a hiatus hernia, muscular disorders, cancer, or other diseases, the correct diet will modify solid food because liquids are less difficult for someone with this type of dysphagia to swallow.
With opropharyngeal dysphagia, a patient is unable to move food or liquid from the front of the mouth to the back, so swallowing cannot take place. Oropharyngeal dysphagia has a number of causes, ranging from dental disorders to stroke or throat cancers. A dysphagia diet for oropharyngeal sufferers must address liquid intake as choking, gurgling, or drooling may occur and can even lead to pneumonia or worse. Liquids can be thickened with chia, tapioca, or other agents to make swallowing easier. As with esophageal dysphagia diets, both foods and liquids may be fortified by adding vitamins or other nutrients.