Understanding Swallowing Difficulties After Spine Surgery Can Improve Quality of Life

Published On 2022-05-10 04:45 GMT   |   Update On 2022-05-10 08:59 GMT

Difficulty swallowing is one of the most common complications of anterior cervical spine surgery (ACSS). Investigators who evaluated possible risk and contributing factors report in Advances in Communication and Swallowing that although most difficulties resolve within two months, the perception of swallowing difficulty can persist for longer.More than 70% of patients report dysphagia...

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Difficulty swallowing is one of the most common complications of anterior cervical spine surgery (ACSS). Investigators who evaluated possible risk and contributing factors report in Advances in Communication and Swallowing that although most difficulties resolve within two months, the perception of swallowing difficulty can persist for longer.

More than 70% of patients report dysphagia symptoms within two weeks following anterior cervical spine surgery. Contributing factors may include extent of surgery, prevertebral soft tissue swelling, or altered sensation secondary to nerve traction during surgery.

Investigators examined post-operative swallowing changes in patients with dysphagia following ACSS compared with healthy age- and gender-matched individuals. They also wanted to determine if there was a timepoint after surgery when dysphagia was likely to resolve due to improvement in factors such as prevertebral soft tissue swelling, sensation changes, or temporary nerve irritation after surgery.

Investigators found that patients in the early phase of recovery had significantly more swallowing impairment and a higher incidence of material entering the lungs (aspiration) compared to healthy controls and patients in the late phase of recovery. However, their results revealed that chronic increased neck tissue thickness was not associated with impairments on x-ray testing to explain the patients' dysphagia symptoms.

Healthy swallowing is integral to life by maintaining nutrition. However, eating is also a very social activity, and so patients with dysphagia can suffer from isolation and poor quality of life in so many aspects. Any translational research that can assist in improving dysphagia outcomes for these patients can help improve their quality of life. 

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