Background and purpose: Screening for dysphagia is essential to the implementation of preventive therapies for patients with stroke. A systematic review was undertaken to determine the evidence-based validity of dysphagia screening items using instrumental evaluation as the reference standard.
Methods: Four databases from 1985 through March 2011 were searched using the terms cerebrovascular disease, stroke deglutition disorders, and dysphagia. Eligibility criteria were: homogeneous stroke population, comparison to instrumental examination, clinical examination without equipment, outcome measures of dysphagia or aspiration, and validity of screening items reported or able to be calculated. Articles meeting inclusion criteria were evaluated for methodological rigor. Sensitivity, specificity, and predictive capabilities were calculated for each item.
Results: Total source documents numbered 832; 86 were reviewed in full and 16 met inclusion criteria. Study quality was variable. Testing swallowing, generally with water, was the most commonly administered item across studies. Both swallowing and nonswallowing items were identified as predictive of aspiration. Neither swallowing protocols nor validity were consistent across studies.
Conclusions: Numerous behaviors were found to be associated with aspiration. The best combination of nonswallowing and swallowing items as well as the best swallowing protocol remains unclear. Findings of this review will assist in development of valid clinical screening instruments.