Swallowing (Dysphagia)

A problem with swallowing food and drink is called dysphagia. This happens when you have trouble using the muscles in your throat or your mouth to move food and drink around. Or, you may have lost feeling in your mouth. Dysphagia can put you at risk of choking or inhaling food (aspiration). This can lead to pneumonia. Dysphagia can also put you at risk for not getting enough to eat (malnutrition) and not getting enough to drink (dehydration). 

If you have dysphagia, the speech language pathologist, dietitian or occupational therapist on your team will work with you. They will help develop a plan to make sure you are able to safely eat and drink.

The plan will tell you what the best food consistency is for your swallowing abilities. For some, softer foods with a finer consistency are easier to swallow. Examples are mashed potatoes, ground meat or stewed legumes such as lentils or dhal.

Some people find thickened liquids easier to swallow. Each person is different — ask your team what is best for you.

Here are some safe eating tips:

  • Make sure you are sitting up straight.
  • Remove distractions, such as TV, radio or cell phone.
  • Do not talk when chewing. Ask people not to ask questions or distract you when you are eating.
  • Cut food into small bites. Use a teaspoon instead of tablespoon to make sure you are not putting too much in your mouth at once.
  • Chew food completely on the stronger side of your mouth. Swallow before taking the next bite.

Getting enough liquids

Sometimes when drinking is challenging, people avoid it. This can lead to problems like dehydration or constipation. Make sure you drink six to eight cups a day of non-caffeinated, non-carbonated fluids that are easiest for you to swallow. Keep a water bottle or travel mug filled with the right liquid close by at all times. Take sips often throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Related information

Speech language pathologists, dietitians and occupational therapists can help assess your eating and swallowing problems.

Dietitians can help you find healthy food choices that fit your situation.

To find useful services to help you on your journey with stroke, see our list of government and community agencies. 

Watch a short animation about swallowing after a stroke.