Clinicians Library

Identifying the signs and symptoms of dysphagia to access care earlier

19 February 2024

Dysphagia, a condition characterised by difficulty swallowing, is thought to affect around 4 million people in the UK. It often affects those who are living with another health condition, such as dementia or those who have experienced a stroke or head injury, and it can hugely impact a person’s quality of life.

Being able to spot the first signs and symptoms is crucial in ensuring you can get early support, and to avoid the potential of any complications like dehydration developing.

Understanding dysphagia symptoms
Dysphagia can present in different ways in different people, so it’s important to know some of the ways it might look.

Dysphagia is a secondary symptom of another condition, but that doesn’t mean it will always come after a diagnosis for something else – it might even be that a difficulty swallowing is the first symptom you notice.

Common signs and symptoms of dysphagia can include:

  1. Choking or coughing during meals: If you or someone you are caring for often chokes or coughs while eating or drinking, this could be a sign of dysphagia.
  2. Frequent throat clearing: Repeated attempts to clear the throat, especially after swallowing, is a common symptom of dysphagia.
  3. Weight loss or malnutrition: A difficulty to swallow can mean not enough calories and nutrients are getting consumed. This can lead to unexpected weight loss or malnutrition, and these are common signs of dysphagia.
  4. Gurgly voice after eating or drinking: A noticeable change in voice quality after meals can be a symptom of dysphagia.
  5. Pocketing food in the cheeks: When you feel like you might choke every time you swallow, you can lose confidence and become hesitant about swallowing. If this is you, or if you notice someone you are caring for often sits at mealtimes with food inside their cheeks, this could be a sign of a difficulty swallowing.
  6. Complaints of a lump in the throat: Some people with dysphagia can feel like they have a lump or something stuck in their throat when swallowing. If this is something that continues to happen, it could be a sign of dysphagia and you should speak to a doctor.

Early action is essential
Because dysphagia can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition, it’s important to get medical support as soon as you think you’ve identified the symptoms.

One of the first things a doctor will do is refer you to a speech and language therapist, who can help to assess and manage dysphagia. The therapist will not only be able to support the clinician to create an individualised care plan, but they will also be able to provide invaluable practical help and support to enhance swallowing function and safety, helping you or the person you’re caring for to regain swallowing confidence.

Enhancing dysphagia care with thickened drinks
One of the things that can make the biggest difference during the early days of a dysphagia diagnosis is knowing that you can access thickened drinks and nutritional supplements that are safe and enjoyable.

It’s so important for us all to stay nourished and hydrated, but nobody wants to spend their time drinking something they don’t like, day in and day out. This is where traditional tinned thickeners and pre-thickened ONS options can fall short, offering limited choice and often lumpy, metallic-tasting drinks.

Slõ enjoyment for those with swallowing difficulties
At Slõ, we have developed a range of handy pre-measured thickening powders that make drinking safe and enjoyable for those living with dysphagia. Whether you fancy a nourishing milkshake or a glass of your favourite fizzy refreshment, Slõ Drinks has a sachet to suit, with a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic hot and cold thickeners in IDDSI Levels 1-3.

Slõ Milkshake+ is packed with essential nutrients – including protein and 25 essential vitamins and minerals – and provides as many calories as a small meal. There are no lumps, no metallic aftertaste, and no issues around measuring the correct amount of thickener – just great-tasting drinks to enjoy, any time of day.

Here to support your dysphagia care
We know how worrying it can be in the early days following a dysphagia diagnosis and understand the challenges you face.

We’re here to support you as you navigate the condition. From educational resources to practical support through a range of enjoyable thickened drinks.

Join The Conversation

To join the conversations we’re having about dysphagia complete your details below or join us on your favorite social media platform.

Enter your email to join us

To join the conversations we’re having about dysphagia complete your details below or join us on your favorite social media platform.

How can we help?

If you would like to contact us more quickly, we are available on
whatsapp - +(44) 7538 803175