Development of a modified swallowing screening tool to manage post-extubation dysphagia

Nurs Crit Care. 2018 Mar;23(2):102-107. doi: 10.1111/nicc.12333. Epub 2017 Dec 28.


Post-extubation dysphagia is a condition that is becoming a growing concern. The condition occurs in 3-62% of extubated patients and can be related to mixed aetiologies, such as neuromuscular impairment, critical illness and laryngeal damage. The risk factors for developing dysphagia in critically ill patients are under-diagnosed and perhaps underestimated. Recent studies recommend the implementation of a standardized swallowing screen to prevent aspiration and decrease pneumonia rate and mortality. The aim of this quality improvement initiative was the development of a bedside swallowing screening tool to assess effective swallowing post-endotracheal extubation. Post-extubation dysphagia can result in a delay in re-feeding, with the potential for malnutrition as well as overt and covert aspiration if swallowing is not effectively screened. It is apparent that ICU nurses commence the initial screen for swallowing in the absence of an evidence base of care. A review of current local and international practice guidelines excludes the process of an effective swallowing screen of the extubated patient. Previously, a referral to speech and language therapists would be required to assess swallowing only after an initial review by the ICU medical team. This often leads to delays if the referral is made outside normal working practice, such as weekends or evenings. The initial development of a swallowing screening tool is the first step to promoting a nurse-led/-initiated bedside swallow screening tool that will enhance patient care and patient safety. There is growing body of evidence regarding the incidence of post-extubation dysphagia. Currently, there are very few recognized bedside swallowing screening tools to identify patients at risk. The most serious complication associated with post-extubation dysphagia is aspiration pneumonia, which is the leading cause of nosocomial infection in the critically ill patient.

Keywords: Aspiration; Dysphagia; Extubation; Post-extubation dysphagia.

MeSH terms

  • Airway Extubation / adverse effects*
  • Critical Care Nursing*
  • Critical Illness
  • Deglutition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Respiration, Artificial / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors