Dysphagia in multiple sclerosis

Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2002 Sep;104(4):345-51. doi: 10.1016/s0303-8467(02)00053-7.


Objectives: (1) To determine the prevalence of swallowing problems in MS patients and its relation to the overall disability. (2) To define the most frequent symptoms suggestive of dysphagia. (3) To describe the abnormalities on manofluoroscopy (MFS).

Methods: Three hundred and eight consecutive MS patients were asked whether they ever had swallowing problems. If so the questionnaire of the Johns Hopkins Swallowing Centre was applied to qualify the dysphagia. A MFS was performed in 30 patients with dysphagia covering the entire spectrum of MS. Overall disability was assessed using the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS).

Results: Seventy-three of our 309 patients had permanent dysphagia (24%). Another 5% had a history of transitory swallowing problems only. Permanent dysphagia started to be a problem in mildly impaired patients (EDSS 2-3). Prevalence increased together with rising disability to reach 65% in the most severely disabled subjects (EDSS 8-9). Two alarming symptoms of patients with swallowing problems, coughing or choking during the meal and a history of pneumonia were present in 59%, respectively, 12% of these patients. MFS showed deficiency of the oral phase in all patients, while only the patients with an EDSS higher than 7.5 showed abnormalities of the pharyngeal phase.

Conclusions: Permanent dysphagia may already develop in mildly impaired MS patients but becomes a rather frequent finding in MS patients with moderate or severe disability. MFS is a sensitive and useful ancillary examination. Important qualitative changes of the pharyngeal phase on MFS are seen in patients with an EDSS higher than 7.5.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Deglutition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology*
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications*
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index