What is dysphagia?
If you look in the dictionary for a dysphagia definition, you are likely to find something similar to the following:
"difficulty or discomfort in swallowing, as a symptom of disease"
The origin of this medical term comes from 'dys' meaning ‘difficulty’ and the Greek word 'phagia' which means ‘to eat’.
In the vast majority of cases, dysphagia is caused by another health condition, you can read more about the conditions that cause dysphagia here.
Types of dysphagia
Dysphagia refers to swallowing difficulties as a whole, but within this there are two specific categories:
• Oropharyngeal dysphagia, also called high dysphagia, which is usually caused by problems in the mouth or the throat
• Oesophageal dysphagia, also known as low dysphagia, which is generally as a result of problems in the oesophagus - the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
Treatment tends to vary depending on which kind of dysphagia the individual has, but in the vast majority of cases a change in diet will be required.
Changing diet to avoid complications
Undiagnosed, or overlooked, cases of dysphagia can cause significant complications, particularly if the person in question is still recovering from the condition that has caused their dysphagia, e.g. throat cancer or a stroke.
In this situation, nutrition is integral to the recovery process – dysphagia can make this difficult to achieve due to the simple fact that it makes it harder to eat and often food has to be modified to make it safe to consume. This can lead to a reduction in appetite or food refusal, which can increase the risk of or lead to malnutrition.
When swallowing is impaired, this can lead to food 'going down the wrong way'. This is far more serious than this casual phrase would suggest, as this can lead to the person choking on their food. Food particles can also travel down the windpipe into the lungs – this is called pulmonary aspiration and can lead to pneumonia.
Eating with dysphagia
Whether it be swallowing or chewing problems, caused by whatever condition, the challenges presented by dysphagia make it hard to get the nutrition needed – let alone enjoy food.
Those with dysphagia will be advised to eat a texture modified diet, which in itself can be quite confusing. Below are the different international descriptors that apply to texture modified meals. The descriptors were developed by the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) in collaboration with healthcare professionals and industry professionals.
Level 4 – Puréed
Level 4 – Puréed is the international descriptor for a purée meal. The prongs of a fork should be able to make clear patterns on the surface. It does not require chewing and cannot be drunk from a cup. Find out how to ensure a Level 4 Puréed food texture here.
Level 5 – Minced
Level 5 – Minced is the descriptor that we use for our Wiltshire Farm Foods range of Level 5 meals. These meals require little chewing and can be scooped and shaped (e.g. into a ball shape) on a plate. Find out how to ensure a Level 5 Minced food texture here.
Level 6 – Soft & Bite-Sized
Level 6 – Soft & Bite-Sized is the international descriptor for food that contains small, bite-sized pieces no bigger than 1.5cm in size and can be easily mashed or broken down using a fork. Find out how to ensure a Level 6 Soft & Bite-Sized food texture here.
The Softer Foods range from Wiltshire Farm Foods, which includes meals across the above descriptors, has been created so that people with dysphagia can not only have a varied diet, but also enjoy food again without having to worry about the complications caused by their condition.
Order a FREE Brochure
Request a free brochure to browse all of our Specialist Nutrition meal ranges:
Main brochure - includes all of our delicious meals. You will be able to find our Specialist Nutrition ranges in their own section at the back.
Softer Foods brochure - includes our range of meals for those with swallowing difficulties.Request a brochure