Objective Aspiration pneumonia is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in both acute and long-term care settings. While there are many reasons for patients to develop aspiration pneumonia, there exists a strong association between difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, and the development of aspiration pneumonia. The modified barium swallow test (MBS) and endoscopic evaluations of swallowing are considered to be the most comprehensive tests used to evaluate and manage patients with dysphagia in an effort to reduce the incidence of pneumonia. The purpose of this study was to provide an initial investigation of whether flexible endoscopic evaluation of swallowing with sensory testing (FEESST) or MBS is superior as the diagnostic test for evaluating and guiding the behavioral and dietary management of outpatients with dysphagia. FEESST combines the standard endoscopic evaluation of swallowing with a technique that determines laryngopharyngeal sensory discrimination thresholds by endoscopically delivering air pulse stimuli to the mucosa innervated by the superior laryngeal nerve.
Study Design Randomized, prospective cohort outcome study in a hospital-based outpatient setting.
Methods One hundred twenty-six outpatients with dysphagia were randomly assigned to either FEESST or MBS as the diagnostic test used to guide dietary and behavioral management (postural changes, small bites and sips, throat clearing). The outcome variables were pneumonia incidence and pneumonia-free interval. The patients were enrolled for 1 year and followed for 1 year.
Results Seventy-eight MBS examinations were performed in 76 patients with 14 patients (18.4%) developing pneumonia; 61 FEESST examinations were performed in 50 patients with 6 patients (12.0%) developing pneumonia. These differences were not statistically significant (ξ2 = 0.93, P = .33). In the MBS group the median pneumonia-free interval was 47 days; in the FEESST group the median pneumonia-free interval was 39 days. Based on Wilcoxon's signed-rank test, this difference was not statistically significant (z = 0.04, P = .96).
Conclusion Whether dysphagic outpatients have their dietary and behavioral management guided by the results of MBS or of FEESST, their outcomes with respect to pneumonia incidence and pneumonia-free interval are essentially the same.