Recent anecdotal literature has shown a relation between arterial oxygen saturation (SpO2), as measured by pulse oximetry, and aspiration during eating. The present study was designed to determine whether bedside pulse oximetry has a role in the assessment of pharyngeal phase dysphagia. Forty-six adult patients with clinically suspected swallowing abnormalities underwent modified barium swallow to evaluate dysphagia. After determining baseline oxygen saturation by pulse oximetry, different consistencies of barium were sequentially ingested. Patients were monitored for radiographic evidence of penetration or aspiration, which was correlated with continuous SpO2 recording. Patients who exhibited aspiration or penetration without clearing had a significant decline in SpO2 compared with those patients who penetrated but cleared or in whom no penetration was observed. These relations were not associated with age, gender, or diagnosis. These preliminary data indicate that bedside pulse oximetry may be a useful tool in the evaluation of patients with dysphagia.
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