Identifying multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who suffer from dysphagia — swallowing difficulties — early on allows the prevention of aspiration pneumonia, a leading cause of death in MS. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas developed a screening tool to detect dysphagia and presented encouraging preliminary data on its use at the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) 2016 Annual Meeting June 1-4 in National Harbor, Maryland.
The meeting, hosting first-class symposiums in the field of MS research and care, draws participants from around the world, and it is one of the most important opportunities for people of varying disciplines to meet and discuss how to improve care and advance research in MS.
Swallowing difficulties emerge in a high proportion of MS patients, with estimates that it affect around 24 percent of MS patients in early stages of the disease. Among the most severely impaired, dysphagia is present in up to 65 percent of patients.
Early identification of such difficulties would allow rehabilitation programs to be launched, where patients are guided on food intake to prevent the inhalation of saliva, food, liquids, or vomit into the lungs — causing aspiration pneumonia. Early screening would also alert treating physicians to carefully monitor such patients.
The Baylor research team reasoned that the availability of a preliminary screening tool, identifying and quantifying swallowing problems, would be beneficial for the identification of patients in need of more extensive investigations and interventions.
The screening tool combined two previously developed questionnaires: the DYMUS (Dysphagia in MS) questionnaire and EAT-10 (Eating Assessment Tool 10). The questionnaires were correlated with scores from the results of swallowing evaluations, Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), and MS type.
The research team presented data from 214 patients screened with the new tool. Among them, about 30 percent reported swallowing problems. Preliminary results suggested that the screening tool, and the questionnaires it was based on, correlated with objective measures of dysphasia.
Researchers plan to screen up to 1,000 MS patients to confirm these preliminary results and validate the tool.