Oropharyngeal Dysphagia Is Strongly Correlated With Apparent Life-Threatening Events

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2017 Aug;65(2):168-172. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001439.


Objectives: The aim of the present study was to investigate the prevalence of oropharyngeal dysfunction with resultant aspiration in patients admitted after apparent life-threatening events (ALTE) and to determine whether historical characteristics could predict this oropharyngeal dysphagia and aspiration risk.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed the records of all patients admitted to Boston Children's Hospital between 2012 and 2015 with a diagnosis of ALTE to determine the frequency of evaluation for oropharyngeal dysphagia using video fluoroscopic swallow studies (VFSS) and clinical feeding evaluations, to determine the prevalence of swallowing dysfunction in subjects admitted after ALTE and to compare presenting historical characteristics to swallow study results.

Results: A total of 188 children were admitted with a diagnosis of ALTE of which 29% (n = 55) had an assessment of swallowing by VFSS. Of those who had a VFSS, 73% (n = 40) had evidence of aspiration or penetration on VFSS. Of all of the diagnostic tests ordered on patients with ALTEs, the VFSS had the highest rate of abnormalities of any test ordered. None of the historical characteristics of ALTE predicted which patients were at risk for aspiration. In patients who had both clinical feeding evaluations and VFSS, observed clinical feedings incorrectly identified 26% of patients as having no oropharyngeal dysphagia when in fact aspiration was present on VFSS.

Conclusions: Oropharyngeal dysphagia with aspiration is the most common diagnosis identified in infants presenting with ALTEs. The algorithm for ALTE should be revised to include an assessment of VFSS as clinical feeding evaluations are inadequate to assess for aspiration.

MeSH terms

  • Brief, Resolved, Unexplained Event / etiology*
  • Deglutition Disorders / complications*
  • Deglutition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Deglutition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Aspiration / complications*
  • Respiratory Aspiration / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Aspiration / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors