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Physical changes

Swallowing changes

Trouble swallowing or moving food from the mouth to the stomach is called dysphagia.

Dysphagia can put you at risk of choking or having food go into your lungs (called aspiration) instead of the stomach. Aspiration is very uncomfortable. It can also cause an infection in your lungs (pneumonia) and be life-threatening.

Why does trouble swallowing happen after a brain injury?

The brainstem and the frontal lobe of the brain control swallowing. When these areas are injured, you may have trouble swallowing.

Trouble swallowing can happen if you have:

  • an injury to an area of the brain that relates to position of the body or thinking
  • poor head or upper body control
  • less lip, tongue, and throat strength
  • less movement and organization of movement
  • trouble concentrating on eating
  • impulsive behaviour when you eat, such as taking bites that are too big
  • trouble following proper techniques when swallowing (if you forget what you were told to do or how to finish the movement of a safe swallow, called apraxia)

You may need a feeding tube to get nutrition if you have trouble swallowing. You may still be able to eat, but a feeding tube makes sure you get enough nutrients. Swallowing often gets better over time.

Talk to a healthcare provider, such as a speech language pathologist or dietitian, for tips to help with swallowing and getting proper nutrition.

Find out more about difficulty swallowing.​

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