Swallowing disorders

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Duke specialists in swallowing disorders use sophisticated diagnostic techniques and the latest medical advances to treat adults and children who have difficulty swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. Swallowing disorders may result from a variety of medical conditions including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurological disorders. Children or adults who experience cleft lip and palate, achalasia, Zenker’s diverticulum, voice disorders or throat cancer may also require care from specialists trained in the treatment of swallowing disorders.

Expert care for swallowing disorders

Swallowing disorders can make it difficult for you to drink liquids without choking, or cause food to feel like it is stuck in your throat. You may experience frequent coughing and gagging while eating. Swallowing problems can result in aspiration pneumonia (an inflammation of your lungs and bronchial tubes caused by a foreign object), upper respiratory infections, weight loss, acid reflux, regurgitation of undigested food, or painful swallowing. Regardless of your symptoms, we have the expertise and resources to identify what is wrong and help you eat and drink safely and comfortably, without fear of choking.

Choose Duke to treat your swallowing disorder because we offer:

  • Experts with advanced training. Depending on your needs, your medical team may include otolaryngologists--ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors, neurologists, gastroenterologists, head and neck surgeons, and speech pathologists -- who have advanced training in evaluating and treating swallowing disorders.
  • High-level evaluation and treatment. Two of our speech pathologists are board certified in swallowing and swallowing disorders. They have completed additional training and maintain high-level skills in the evaluation and treatment of swallowing disorders.  As a result, you receive the best level of care from the most knowledgeable therapists.
  • Personalized swallow therapy. Our speech pathologists use the latest technology and knowledge to evaluate your specific swallowing problem.  They teach you safer eating and drinking strategies, offer guidance on positional or other behavioral changes during meals, and suggest specific food choices to people who experience difficulties with chewing, coughing or choking while eating and drinking.
  • Research advances. Our specialists have made major contributions that have improved treatment and outcomes for people with swallowing disorders. We pioneered the first minimally invasive surgery for Zenker’s diverticulum (a pouch at the back of the throat that traps food and impairs swallowing). We have performed this surgery, known as endoscopic staple diverticulostomy (ESD), on more patients than any other U.S. center, and have achieved successful results in more than 95 percent of cases.
  • Advanced medical records technology. Our secure online portal, Duke MyChart, allows you to view test results, make appointments, request prescription refills, and message your doctor using any Web-enabled device. Our technology also allows anyone on your care team to securely access your health information, making sure you always get care that's right for you and based on the latest evidence.
  • Pediatric feeding disorders programComprehensive evaluation and treatment is provided to infants and children who have swallowing disorders, including problems with feeding and growth due to medical or behavioral conditions, including prematurity, genetic syndromes (such as Down’s syndrome), brain injury, cerebral palsy, food allergies, and digestive disorders.



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