Objective: The purpose of our investigation was to determine the relationship between the degree of swallowing dysfunction observed on barium studies and the likelihood of developing pneumonia in a large series of patients.
Materials and methods: The findings on videofluoroscopic swallowing studies in 381 patients were used to classify these patients into one of five groups: those with normal swallowing; those with abnormal swallowing but no laryngeal penetration or tracheobronchial aspiration; those with laryngeal penetration; those with tracheobronchial aspiration; and those with silent tracheobronchial aspiration. Clinical data were also reviewed to determine how many patients had developed pneumonia during the 6 months before or after the barium studies. The data were then analyzed to determine whether the risk of developing pneumonia increased significantly with each level of swallowing dysfunction seen on barium studies.
Results: No significant difference was found in the frequency of pneumonia in patients with abnormal swallowing but no laryngeal penetration or tracheobronchial aspiration compared with patients with normal swallowing on barium studies (p = 0.85). In contrast, patients with laryngeal penetration, tracheobronchial aspiration, or silent tracheobronchial aspiration were approximately four times (p = 0.008), 10 times (p < 0.0001), and 13 times (p < 0.0001), respectively, more likely to develop pneumonia than those with normal swallowing.
Conclusion: Our findings indicate that the likelihood of developing pneumonia is directly related to the degree of swallowing dysfunction seen on videofluoroscopic studies. Patients with no laryngeal penetration-regardless of whether they had normal or abnormal swallowing-have the lowest risk of developing pneumonia. Patients with laryngeal penetration, tracheobronchial aspiration, or silent tracheobronchial aspiration are, in increasing order of magnitude, significantly more likely to develop pneumonia than patients with normal swallowing.