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Trouble swallowing

The breathing machine can contribute to swallowing problems. Speech-language pathologists (SLP) are often asked to assess patients’ ability to swallow after they come off the ventilator. In cases of prolonged ventilation, requiring tracheostomy tubes, a speech-language pathologists may be called upon to assess swallowing while the patient is still on the ventilator.

  • The initial assessment of swallowing takes place at the bedside;
  • The SLP will evaluate the muscles used for swallowing;
  • The SLP will also carry out a test to determine if the patient can safely swallow liquids and solid food.

If further evaluation is needed, the SLP may conduct a videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS).

  • This test is performed in the radiology department and uses a special type of x-ray called fluoroscopy that provides movie-like images;
  • The movie shows how food is being swallowed.

Based on these tests, the SLP may make some recommendations. For instance, the SLP may suggest:

  • Modified food and liquid;
  • Strategies for swallowing more safely and effectively;
  • If the patient is not able to swallow safely, the recommendation may be for continued nutrition through a feeding tube until re-assessment.

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Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100