Surface electromyography as a screening method for evaluation of dysphagia and odynophagia

Head Face Med. 2009 Feb 20;5:9. doi: 10.1186/1746-160X-5-9.


Objective: Patients suspected of having swallowing disorders, could highly benefit from simple diagnostic screening before being referred to specialist evaluations. The article analyzes various instrumental methods of dysphagia assessment, introduces surface electromyography (sEMG) to carry out rapid assessment of such patients, and debates proposed suggestions for sEMG screening protocol in order to identify abnormal deglutition.

Data sources: Subject related books and articles from 1813 to 2007 were obtained through library search, MEDLINE (1949-2007) and EMBASE (1975-2007).

Methods: Specifics steps for establishing the protocol for applying the technique for screening purposes (e.g., evaluation of specific muscles), the requirements for diagnostic sEMG equipment, the sEMG technique itself, and defining the tests suitable for assessing deglutition (e.g., saliva, normal, and excessive swallows and uninterrupted drinking of water) are presented in detail. SEMG is compared with other techniques in terms of cost, timing, involvement of radiation, etc.

Results: According to the published data, SEMG of swallowing is a simple and reliable method for screening and preliminary differentiation among dysphagia and odynophagia of various origins. This noninvasive radiation-free examination has a low level of discomfort, and is simple, time-saving and inexpensive to perform. The major weakness of the method seems to be inability for precise diagnostic of neurologically induced dysphagia.

Conclusion: With standardization of the technique and an established normative database, sEMG might serve as a reliable screening method for optimal patient management but cannot serve for proper investigation of neurogenic dysphagia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Deglutition / physiology
  • Deglutition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Humans