23 November 2001
A new study has been launched to gauge how common it is for stroke patients to accidentally ‘swallow’ food into their lungs.
The research, funded by leading medical charity Action Research, could lead to better understanding and diagnosis of the distressing condition.
Dr David Smithard, who is based at the William Harvey Hospital, in Ashford, Kent, and is leading the three-year project, says it could also highlight the affect it can have on patient recovery.
‘Such an understanding may ultimately lead to better care of patients and potentially prevent more serious complications, such as pneumonia’, he says.
Stroke is the third most common cause of death and the leading cause of severe disability in the community. In the UK, more than 100,000 people a year suffer their first stroke and a total of 300,000 people are living with the affects of stroke at any one time.
About half of all patients following an acute stroke have difficulty swallowing and in some cases food is ‘inhaled’ into the lungs.
It is already known that patients with swallowing problems suffer an increased risk of chest infection, poor nutrition, and a longer stay in hospital.
But in some patients, food and liquid are going down into their lungs despite an apparently normal swallow – a process called ‘silent aspiration’, which can be easily missed during a clinical bedside examination.
Now researchers are hoping to assess how common it is to inhale food silently after stroke, and how it affects patient recovery. They also aim to determine whether the chances of detecting it can be improved by using a chest X-ray as well as a simple bedside assessment of swallowing.
The study, which is being ran in conjunction the Department of Medicine, Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ School of Medicine, London, is thanks to funding of more than £130,000 from Action Research.
Action Research, which has made financial commitments to many stroke studies, is currently funding another project looking at helping patients to swallow following stroke. The study, based at Salford’s Hope Hospital, in Greater Manchester, aims to identify how the brain adapts after a stroke, specifically looking at the swallowing process to see if an adaption can be encouraged to accelerate the process of recovery.
By developing methods that target this process, the research could help improve the lives of thousands of stroke victims. Currently, many of these patients have to be fed through a tube into the stomach, in the hope that the swallowing mechanism will eventually be restored.
Action Research has just launched its 50th anniversary, and over the next 12 months will be celebrating 50 years of touching lives through medical research. Some successes include developing the UK’s first polio and rubella vaccines, the artificial hip and bringing ultrasound into the medical world.
For more details about the anniversary activity and the Touching Lives Campaign, which aims to raise £2.5m for medical research next year, visit our website at www.action.org.uk
Fact-file: *Every year 10,000 people under the age of 55 have a stroke *When a stroke occurs part of the brain is suddenly severely damaged or destroyed. *It takes place either when a blood clot forms in a damaged vessel and blocks the flow of blood to the brain, or when a damaged vessel in the brain bursts *Stroke is the third commonest cause of mortality, but the commonest cause of severe disability *The cost of stroke to the NHS is estimated to be over £2.3 billion (figures quoted by The Stroke Association)