Neurogenic dysphagia: What is the cause when the cause is not obvious?

Abstract

The potential causes of neurogenic oropharyngeal dysphagia in cases in which the underlying neurologic disorder is not readily apparent are discussed. The most common basis for unexplained neurogenic dysphagia may be cerebrovascular disease in the form of either confluent periventricular infacts or small, discrete brainstem stroke, which may be invisible by magnetic resonance imaging. The diagnosis of occult stroke causing pharyngeal dysphagia should not be overlooked, because this diagnosis carries important treatment implications. Motor neuron disease producing bulbar palsy, pseudobulbar palsy, or a combination of the two can present as gradually progressive dysphagia and dysarthria with little if any limb involvement. Myopathies, especially polymyositis, and myasthenia gravis are potentially treatable disorders that must be considered. A variety of medications may cause or exacerbate neurogenic dysphagia. Psychiatric disorders can masquerade as swallowing apraxia. The basis for unexplained neurogenic dysphagia can best be elucidated by methodical evaluation including careful history, neurologic examination, videofluoroscopy of swallowing, blood studies (CBC, chemistry panel, creatine kinase, B12, thyroid screening, and anti-acetylcholine receptor antibodies), electromyography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, plus additional procedures such as lumbar puncture and muscle biopsy as indicated. Little is known about aging and neurogenic dysphagia, specifically the relative contributions of natural age-related changes in the oropharynx and of diseases of the elderly, including periventricular MRI abnormalities, in producing dysphagia symptoms and videofluoroscopic abnormalities in this population.

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Buchholz, D.W. Neurogenic dysphagia: What is the cause when the cause is not obvious?. Dysphagia 9, 245–255 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00301918

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Key words

  • Neurogenic dysphagia
  • Oropharyngeal dysfunction
  • Videofluoroscopy
  • Deglutition
  • Deglutition disorders