Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Treatment Makes Life Easier to Swallow

Did you hear that Martin Memorial is offering VitalStim?

It’s a non-invasive therapy that uses an electrical current to stimulate the muscles responsible for swallowing. Electrical stimulation has been used for a long time by physical therapists to treat larger muscles (arms, legs). But it’s only been recently that speech language pathologists started using it for treating swallowing concerns.

Dysphagia (or difficulty swallowing) is prevalent with the elderly and people that have had strokes, radiation therapy for head and neck cancer, head injuries or degenerative neurological disease such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Symptoms can include coughing during or after eating, choking on foods or liquids, pain during eating or the sensation that something is stuck in the throat.

If not managed, swallowing problems can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by food going down into the lungs. It’s a very serious condition and one of the leading causes of death in the elderly.

VitalStim is a therapy that helps to re-educate the muscles for swallowing. The electrical current is delivered by specifically designed electrodes which are placed in the neck area. Under the direct guidance of a speech pathologist, the patient practices swallowing exercises that cause the swallowing muscles to contract. With repeated therapy the muscles are re-trained and the quality of the swallowing function improves.

Patients frequently feel improvement in six to 20 sessions. All across the country, speech pathologists using VitalStim are reporting great success with patients, especially patients who did not find success with traditional therapy.

--Cindy Irish
Lead Speech Pathologist

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