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Swallowing after stroke

Difficulty with eating, drinking and swallowing is called dysphagia.

Dysphagia after a stroke is very common. More than half of people who have had a stroke will have difficulty eating, drinking or swallowing in the first few days or weeks.

A stroke can affect the strength, speed or coordination of the muscle movements involved in swallowing.

  • Eating and drinking may be slow. This can make it difficult to take enough food and drink to keep healthy.
  • You may be more likely to cough or choke. This can be dangerous, and may lead to chest infections.

Everyone admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke should have a swallowing test to check for any swallowing difficulties before being offered any food or drink. If you have any difficulty during this test, you will be referred to a speech and language therapist (SLT) for a full assessment. You will not usually be allowed to eat or drink until you have had this test.

Often swallowing problems do get better and most people are able to swallow safely again within the first few weeks after their stroke.

Tips to make swallowing easier

  • Sit in an upright position
  • Reduce distractions and concentrate on eating and drinking
  • Avoid tipping your head back
  • Chew food well
  • Slow down
  • Make sure your mouth is empty before taking the next mouthful
  • Eat regularly and take small meals more often if you get tired eating
  • Make sure all snacks are a suitable texture
  • Check your weight regularly and let your doctor know if you are losing weight
  • Let your doctor know if you are finding it difficult to swallow your medicines
See the CHSS factsheet Swallowing problems after a stroke (PDF) for more information.