Throat therapy allows patients to swallow

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By The Staff

Suffering from a swallowing disorder is not a fun way to live. Right now, though, an estimated 15 million Americans who suffer from common health problems like a stroke, cancer or Parkinson's disease will also suffer a common side effect of dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.

Taylor Regional Hospital has treated 41 patients suffering from dysphagia using a procedure called VitalStim therapy. According to Debbie Gabbert, speech pathologist and administer of the therapy, everyone that continued on the therapy showed improvement and was able to get back to some form of a regular diet.

One of these patients is Anna Frances Hogue, a retired Campbellsville High School teacher.

In November 2006, Hogue suffered from three mini-strokes. After the strokes, she began gradually noticing problems when she tried to eat or swallow like coughing, choking or sneezing. She was referred by her doctor to Gabbert for VitalStim treatments.

A modified barium swallow study was completed in May 2007 that showed food sticking in Hogue's throat and liquids entering her trachea. She began VitalStim treatments in June.

VitalStim therapy uses small electrical currents, by way of electrodes placed on the neck, to stimulate the muscles in the throat responsible for swallowing. A very controlled amount of electrical current is passed through the electrodes to motor nerves in the throat to train them to contract the muscles for swallowing.

In July 2007 after 31 treatments, a follow-up MBS study was conducted for Hogue that showed improvements in all areas. She was able stop receiving treatments in August and return to a regular diet.

VitalStim is the only proven clinical treatment of dysphagia. It has a 97 percent success rate and is the only treatment of dysphagia approved for use by the FDA.

According to the VitalStim Web site, www.vitalstimtherapy.com, one in 17 people will suffer from dysphagia at one point or another in their life. Common causes of dysphagia include stroke, cancer of the throat and neck, brain injury, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

If not treated, dysphagia can lead to aspiration pneumonia, which is infection of the lungs due to the sucking in of food particles or fluids, as well as choking, chronic malnutrition, severe dehydration, or even death.

Today, Hogue is able to enjoy a relatively normal diet. She no longer has to receive VitalStim treatments.