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Understanding Dysphagia Related to Multiple Sclerosis

An MS patient with dysphagia enjoys a coffee with a caregiver.

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can occur on its own or as a symptom of another condition. In the latter case, those conditions can range from a stroke or Parkinson’s disease, to Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), among others.

According to a recent article in The American Journal of Managed Care, dysphagia is estimated to affect one-third of the patients with MS. While dysphagia is a recognized symptom of MS and can occur in the early stages of the disease, some MS patients may have difficulty swallowing and not realize it.[i]

Furthermore, because dysphagia affects muscle strength and motor coordination, the condition can lead to severe side effects such as dehydration, poor nutrition, choking, or in some cases, aspiration pneumonia. It is important to understand the symptoms and recognize if you, or someone you are caring for, is experiencing dysphagia so proper steps can be taken to ensure safety and wellbeing.

One of the goals of World MS Day―held each year on May 30―is to promote self-care and healthy living with MS. For those experiencing MS and dysphagia, that could mean meeting with a speech language pathologist, learning about a modified diet, or following food safety rules.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides the following tips to those experiencing swallowing disorders alongside MS:[ii]

  • Brush your teeth and tongue thoroughly twice a day (found to be the single most important factor for reducing aspiration pneumonia because it reduces bacteria in the mouth).
  • Sit upright when eating or drinking, and take one small bite or sip at a time (unless told otherwise).
  • If you feel yourself slowing down or fatiguing during a meal, take a break. It is better to plan smaller meals more frequently during the day.

Remember that self-care includes taking the steps to become more educated on dysphagia through credible sources of information. If a thickened diet is recommended by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or other health care professionals, the Thick-It® brand would be a great resource for you. It provides an abundance of resources, research and articles, in addition to a full line of dysphagia nutrition products. Patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals can learn more by following us on these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter , LinkedIn and YouTube.

Always consult with a physician. This information is general and is not intended to be used as medical guidance on a specific patient scenario.


[i]The American Journal of Managed Care. “New Tools Needs to Assess Dysphagia in MS, Review Says.” AJMC Staff. April 18, 2020.
[ii] National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Speech and Swallowing: The Basic Facts.” 2014.

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