Understanding post-surgery dysphagia

by Roberto Verzaro, Professor of General Surgery in the Degree Course in Midwifery at UniCamillus

Dysphagia is a clinical condition that often occurs after surgery, especially if complex or if the patient has had a prolonged period of orotracheal intubation. It consists of a defect in deglutition, that complex physiological act that allows the transport of food from the oral cavity to the stomach.

Post-surgery dysphagia can be normal and occurs due to transient dysfunction of the mechanisms responsible for deglutition. In this case we speak of post-surgery dysphagia. If the dysphagia persists and is due to a lesion of the organs responsible for deglutition, the patient suffers, however, from post-surgery dysphagia which represents a complication or an inevitable consequence of surgery.

Post-surgery dysphagia occurs after surgery performed for pathology of the oral cavity, pharyngeal cavity or after surgery performed on organs such as the esophagus and stomach. However, it is important to recognize that post-surgery dysphagia can also complicate surgery of other nature that do not involve the digestive system, such as neurosurgery performed on the skull base or cervical spine or surgery on the cervical region such as laryngectomies, thyroidectomies or endarterectomies for carotid pathology.

The importance of recognizing and treating this complication early will never be emphasized enough. When neglected, post-surgery dysphagia is responsible for malnutrition, dehydration, defects in surgical wound repair, poor patient compliance to therapy and increased incidence of aspiration pneumonia.

The management of the patient with dysphagia after surgery is multidisciplinary and involves various disciplines including the speech therapist, the nutritionist, the professional nurse, the oncologist, the endoscopist and the surgeon. A deglutition specialist certainly faces, in the course of his profession, patients having surgery for various pathologies that may present with this important deglutition disorder.

Recognizing the various causes and directing the patient to the correct diagnostic and therapeutic process then is particularly important.

Roberto Verzaro is Professor of General Surgery in the Degree Course in Midwifery at UniCamillus and teaches “Post-surgery dysphagia” in the 1st level Online Master in Deglutology and Related Disorders of the University.

The Master aims to train professionals in the field of dysphagia through a transversal and interdisciplinary educational offer.

The lessons are delivered in e-learning mode with the possibility of accessing the platform 24 hours a day and using, at any time, all the teaching material made available by the teaching staff. For more information about the Master click HERE