Malnutrition is a concern for many people, and is a particular issue for people with dysphagia. A study published in 2015 found that one third (32%) of people aged 65 years or over are at risk of malnutrition on admission to hospital.

Conditions like swallowing difficulties makes eating enough of the right things a challenge, thus putting you at risk of being malnourished. But what are the consequences of poor nutrition? In this article we’ll look at how poor nutrition affects your health.

Increased reliance on healthcare

Research has shown that malnourished people use healthcare more than those that are able to get the nutrition they need.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that malnourished people (in comparison with people getting a healthy amount of nutrition):

• Saw their GP just over twice as often
• Had three times the number of hospital admissions
• Were in hospital 3 days longer per stay on average

Other research has also found that malnourished people take out more prescriptions.

All of this points towards a general decline in health – thus needing more medical attention and finding it more difficult to recover once in a state of ill health.

Reduced immune system function

Vitamins and nutrients are essential to the function of your immune system. If you have dysphagia, it can be difficult to eat the kind of varied and balanced diet necessary to get these nutrients.

The effects of poor nutrition on the immune system can be seen within a few days. Dysphagia already exists as a secondary condition, so most people dealing with it are also dealing with the primary condition that caused it.

This makes reduced immunity a serious concern, as infection can add another layer of difficulty to what is already a potentially challenging medical situation.

Muscle degradation

Another major concern for people with dysphagia is the possibility of losing physical strength due to lack of nutrition – particularly protein.

This can become especially problematic due to the nature of how we swallow, swallowing being an ‘automatic’ muscular process.

If someone is not getting the nutrition they need due to swallowing difficulties, this can then lead to their swallowing problems becoming more severe. As they get weaker, the muscles involved in swallowing get weaker as well.

This means you can eat less, thus getting less nutrition, thus losing more strength, the vicious circle is already apparent.

This shows why finding ways to get the nutrients you need is so important for people with swallowing difficulties – both to help with recovery from your primary condition and to prevent your dysphagia from becoming more severe.

Poor mobility leading to falls

While lack of nutrients can lead to a weaker swallow, it will also lead to other weaknesses in the body.

When your body doesn’t have the fuel it needs to keep muscles and joints working properly, this leads to poor mobility. The resulting stiffness and weakness make it difficult to move around, which in turn leads to more trips and falls.

This brings us back full circle – a trip or fall is quite likely to leave you needing medical treatment and as we observed earlier, dysphagia and poor nutrition can make that a difficult experience.

Solving the problem

When you have swallowing difficulties, poor nutrition and all the negative side effects that come with it can seem like an inevitability.

However, thanks to innovative meals like our Softer Foods range there are ways you can get the nutrition you need safely – and avoid dysphagia causing you the knock-on problems of poor nutrition.