ACADEMIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE 2011; 18:584–589 © 2011 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine
Objectives: Dysphagia is a common complication for emergency department (ED) patients presenting with acute stroke (AS). Recent stroke recommendations have suggested that EDs screen patients with AS for dysphagia prior to administering anything by mouth. This study sought to develop and test a novel ED dysphagia screen to be used in this population.
Methods: A multidisciplinary approach was used to create a novel dysphagia screen performed by ED nurses during the initial evaluation of patients with suspected AS. The screen consists of five questions of which any single affirmative answer signified possible dysphagia. A prospective cohort study was conducted to evaluate the performance of this screen in detecting dysphagia after AS. Patients were followed for 30 days, and true dysphagia was determined if the patient had an abnormal modified barium swallow study (MBS), had placement of a feeding tube, or was placed on a dysphagia diet after assessment by a speech pathologist. The authors performed a substudy to determine agreement using a blinded kappa (κ) assessment with a convenience sample of 40 patients.
Results: Over a 21-month period, 283 patients met eligibility for analysis. The rate of cerebral infarction in this cohort was 245 (87%). The rates for true dysphagia, pneumonia, and death were 91 (32%), 26 (9%), and 18 (6%), respectively. The dysphagia screen had a sensitivity of 95% (95% confidence [CI] = 88% to 98%) and a negative likelihood ratio of 0.1 (95% CI = 0.04 to 0.2). The inter-rater agreement assessed by kappa was substantial (0.69, 95% CI = 0.55 to 0.83).
Conclusions: These data suggest that this dysphagia screen may be a valuable tool for detecting dysphagia in ED patients presenting with AS. The simple screen can be performed by nursing personnel and appears to perform well with good agreement. Given the overall rate of dysphagia in one-third of AS patients, the use of an ED dysphagia screen appears warranted.