Psychopathological aspects of dysphagia: a systematic review on correlations with eating disorders and other psychiatric conditions

Eat Weight Disord. 2022 Apr;27(3):881-892. doi: 10.1007/s40519-021-01227-z. Epub 2021 Jul 2.


Background: The effect of psychopathology on swallowing ability tends to be an overlooked issue in the assessment of dysphagic patients, possibly overshadowed by the given prominence to organic pathologies and the difficulties on the management of these patients. In addition, it should also be kept in mind that a great number of psychotropic drugs can affect swallowing adding problematic clinical issues in this area. Despite this, assessment of dysphagia should be considered as an extremely important issue, due to its impact on basic symptomatology, course of illness and quality of life.

Objective: This review aims to be an overview of relevant data on psychopathology associated with dysphagia and impairment of swallowing function.

Materials and methods: An extensive bibliographic search was carried out in different medical databases (PubMed and Psycharticles) to comprehensively identify the most relevant publications available on dysphagia in eating disorders published until December 2020, according to the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analysis) method. Research articles, either theoretical or empirical-based, published in peer-reviewed journals and in English language, were included. Case reports were also considered in the analysis when it was appropriate for completeness purposes. Titles and abstracts were reviewed according to the eligibility criteria.

Results: In total, 260 published studies were identified and 40 were finally selected after removal of duplicates and relevance. Primarily we investigated the correlation between dysphagia and eating disorders, analysing the complex relationship between the two conditions. Then we provided an overview of the assessment of dysphagic symptoms in other psychiatric syndromes.

Limits: No exclusion criteria or statistical methods were applied nor was an assessment of study-level or outcome-level bias applicable for our purpose. The topic is vast and research bias could not be excluded; moreover, data available are heterogeneous and lacking systematic approach.

Conclusions: With this review, the authors want to provide an overview of the most considerable and clinically useful information about the topic, focusing on some key points to disentangle psychiatric components from the complexity of patient with dysphagia. It should be a relevant concern for all clinicians and should be always thoroughly assessed, considered its frequency in clinical practice and its implications in every kind of patients' morbidity, mortality and quality of life. Special attention should be paid to mentally ill patients, who might display complex and multiple comorbidities, as well as consequences of abnormal eating behaviours, occasionally exacerbated by psychotropic medications. More systematic studies are needed, while it seems clear that a multidisciplinary approach is pivotal in the assessment and management of dysphagic patients.

Level of evidence: Level I (evidence obtained from at least one properly designed randomized controlled trials; systematic reviews and meta-analyses; experimental studies).

Keywords: Dysphagia; Eating disorders; Psychiatric disorders; Somatoform disorders; Swallowing disorders.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition Disorders* / complications
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / complications
  • Health Services
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life