Background: Aspiration as a symptom of dysphagia and its apparent sequela, aspiration pneumonia, are common consequences of a stroke in the medulla. Previous reports that focused on dysphagia due to a medullary lesion were studies of single cases or a relatively small number of patients with multiple lesion loci. Moreover, the interval between the onset of stroke and the evaluation time of swallowing was not controlled and varied largely among patients. Thus, prediction of the swallowing status of patients with a medullary lesion has not been tenable.
Objectives: To investigate the relation between the loci of pure medullary lesions and aspiration, to examine swallowing function over time, and to explore clinical variables that can predict aspiration.
Methods: We investigated 23 patients with pure medullary infarctions using the videofluoroscopic swallowing study and compared the airway status findings with the lesion location as determined with magnetic resonance imaging. The patients were classified by 6 medullary lesion-level categories (lower, lower-middle, middle, lower-middle-upper, middle-upper, and upper) and by 5 intralevel lesion loci (inferior-dorsal, large inferior-dorsolateral, para-median, midlateral, and dorsolateral). From the results of the videofluoroscopic swallowing studies, 2 patient groups were formed: one with aspiration and the other without aspiration. The clinical variables related to aspiration and outcome measures were also explored.
Results: Ten (44%) of the 23 patients manifested aspiration on swallowing: 9 (69%) of 13 with only middle-level lesions or lesions in multilevels, including the middle level; 1 (33%) of 3 with only upper-level lesions; and 0 (0%) of 7 with only lower-level medullary lesions. A lesion running the length of the middle and the lower medullary levels always resulted in aspiration. When an upper-level lesion was additionally involved, the incidence of aspiration depended on the horizontal extension of the lesion. We were able to discriminate the 2 patient groups with 95.7% accuracy using such variables as dysphonia, soft palate dysfunction, and facial hypesthesia. Most of the patients with aspiration symptoms due to a pure medullary infarction recovered rather quickly.
Conclusions: Medullary infarctions often cause aspiration, but the occurrence may depend on the levels along the neuraxis and intralevel lesion loci. When different lesion levels and loci and their related clinical findings are considered as possible variables, aspiration becomes predictable. The outcome data prove that systematic control of evaluation time of swallowing was critical as we engaged in this study, since many aspirators with pure medullary infarctions resolve their swallowing difficulties rather quickly.