It is common to have trouble swallowing, also called dysphagia, after a stroke. You may not be able to feel food on one or both sides of your mouth. You may have problems chewing or producing enough saliva. Or you may have other conditions that make eating difficult and increase your risk of choking.
Other things that may interfere with normal eating include:
- Problems seeing or judging where things are, especially on the side of your body affected by the stroke.
- Problems recognizing familiar objects or remembering how to do everyday things.
- Paralysis or weakness or trouble controlling movements (apraxia).
- Problems with smell, taste, or the sense of feeling.
- Depression, which can cause a loss of appetite and requires treatment.
If you have eating problems after a stroke, you will need a thorough evaluation by a speech therapist or another rehabilitation specialist. You may need special X-rays to see how you are swallowing. As you recover from a stroke, your rehabilitation team will monitor your progress. Swallowing and eating problems often improve over time, but some may last for the rest of your life.
But there are many things you can do to make eating easier. For instance:
- Eat foods that are easy to chew, taste, and swallow, and avoid others that are not.
- Process foods to make them easier to swallow.
- Ask your speech pathologist, occupational therapist, or dietitian how to make liquids thicker. You may be able to add something to a thin liquid to make it easier to swallow.
- Eat foods that are not too hot or cold.
- Use special devices to help you eat.
- Use eating techniques that can help you prevent choking.
- Have a temporary or permanent feeding tube placed through your nose or through your abdomen into the stomach (for severe swallowing problems).
People who have trouble eating and swallowing after a stroke are at risk for suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, and for breathing in food or liquids (aspiration) which can lead to infection of the lungs. During your stroke recovery make sure you eat slowly and deliberating to avoid choking.