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dysphagia, deglutition disorders, swallowing disorders, swallowing dysfunction, electrical stimulation, e-stim, VitalStim


Purpose: Dysphagia is a term used for a swallowing disorder resulting from problems with the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, or gastroesophageal junction. Dysphagia can have significant impacts on an individual’s quality of life and statistics suggest that nearly 15 million adults in the United States present with swallowing disorders. Common medical complications associated with dysphagia are malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration pneumonia, and even death. Traditional dysphagia treatment (TDT) for adults currently consists of diet modification, compensatory strategies involving postural adjustments, and swallowing exercises to strengthen musculature. The objective of this systematic review is to determine whether electrical stimulation (ES) improves swallowing function in adults with dysphagia.

Methodology: Four indexed databases were searched to obtain studies pertaining to the use of ES in dysphagia treatment and its success. Application of inclusionary and exclusionary criteria narrowed the results and relevant studies were selected for this systematic review. Studies were also hand-selected and appraised for validity to ensure minimal bias.

Results: Results of the selected studies revealed varying statistically significant effects of ES as a treatment for adults with dysphagia. However, many studies suggest ES is most effective in producing positive outcomes when coupled with TDT.

Conclusion: The results of the systematic review suggest efficacy of ES is highest when it is used in conjunction with TDT. Studies with statistically significant results reported on only a minor improvement with ES. None of the studies reported negative outcomes related to ES. Additional research is needed to determine overall efficacy of ES as an evidence-based intervention for adults with dysphagia resulting from various etiologies.


Nancy Gauvin, EdD, CCC-SLP

Efficacy of Electrical Stimulation Intervention in Treating Adults with Dysphagia: A Systematic Review