Background Pharyngeal electrical stimulation (PES) appears to promote cortical plasticity and swallowing recovery poststroke. Objective We aimed to assess clinical effectiveness with longer follow-up. Methods Dysphagic patients (n = 36; median = 71 years; 61% male) recruited from 3 trial centers within 6 weeks of stroke, received active or sham PES in a single-blinded randomized design via an intraluminal pharyngeal catheter (10 minutes, for 3days). The primary outcome measure was the Dysphagia Severity Rating (DSR) scale (<4, no-mild; ≥4, moderate-severe). Secondary outcomes included unsafe swallows on the Penetration-Aspiration Scale (PAS ≥ 3), times to hospital discharge, and nasogastric tube (NGT) removal. Data were analyzed using logistic regression. Odds/hazard ratios (ORs/HRs) >1 for DSR <4, hospital discharge, and NGT removal and OR <1 for PAS ≥3, indicated favorable outcomes for active PES. Results Two weeks post-active PES, 11/18 (61%) had DSR <4: OR (95% CI) = 2.5 (0.52, 14). Effects of active versus sham for secondary outcomes included the following: PAS ≥3 at 2 weeks, OR (95% CI) = 0.61 (0.27, 1.4); times to hospital discharge, 39 days versus 52 days, HR (95% CI) = 1.2 (0.55, 2.5); NGT removal 8 versus 14 days, HR (95% CI) = 2.0 (0.51, 7.9); and DSR <4 at 3 months, OR (95% CI) = 0.97 (0.13, 7.0). PES was well tolerated, without adverse effects or associations with serious complications (chest infections/death). Conclusions Although the direction of observed differences were consistent with PES accelerating swallowing recovery over the first 2 weeks postintervention, suboptimal recruitment prevents definitive conclusions. Our study design experience and outcome data are essential to inform a definitive, multicenter randomized trial.
Keywords: dysphagia; electrical stimulation; neurostimulation; pharynx; rehabilitation; stroke.
© The Author(s) 2016.