OBJECTIVE: Before the advanced evaluation of deglutition and selection of a treatment method, objective screening methods are necessary for patients with dysphagia. In this study a new electroclinical test was established to evaluate patients with dysphagia. METHODS: This test is based on determining piecemeal deglutition; which is a physiological phenomenon occurring when a bolus of a large volume is divided into two or more parts which are swallowed successively. The combined electrophysiological and mechanical method used to record laryngeal movements detected by a piezoelectric transducer, and activities of the related submental integrated EMG (SM-EMG)-and sometimes the cricopharyngeal muscle of the upper oesophageal sphincter (CP-EMG)-were performed during swallowing. Thirty normal subjects and 66 patients with overt dysphagia of neurogenic origin were investigated after detailed clinical evaluation. Twenty patients with a potential risk of dysphagia, but who were normal clinically at the time of investigation, were also evaluated to determine the specificity of the test. All subjects were instructed to swallow doses of water, gradually increasing in quantity from 1 ml to 20 ml, and any recurrence of the signals related to swallowing within the eight seconds was accepted as a sign of dysphagia limit. RESULTS: In normal subjects as well as in the patients without dysphagia, piecemeal deglutition was never seen with less than 20 ml water. This volume was therefore accepted as the lower limit of piecemeal deglutition. In patients with dysphagia, dysphagia limits were significantly lower than those of normal subjects. CONCLUSION: The method is a highly specific and sensitive test for the objective evaluation of oropharyngeal dysphagia even in patients with suspected dysphagia of neurogenic origin. It can also be safely and simply applied in any EMG laboratory.
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