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The videofluoroscopic swallowing study – what is it and who needs it?


We’ve all had experiences like taking a sip of water and it having it go down the ‘wrong pipe’ or struggling to get our pills down, but what if it happens regularly or is happening more often? Your doctor may suggest that you partake in a videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) to determine what’s happening while you swallow. A swallowing study can determine if medication, speech therapy, certain positioning or a change in the foods you eat will help you improve your ability to eat and drink more safely. Your doctor may recommend a VFSS if you experience:

  • Complaints of food sticking in your throat
  • Frequent coughing or choking on food or liquid
  • Frequent heartburn and/or burning in your throat
  • Frequent throat clearing
  • Painful swallowing, or taking extra effort to swallow
  • Weight loss due to not being able to eat
  • Gagging or vomiting while eating

In addition, patients with certain medical diagnoses may need repeated swallowing studies to document changes in their ability to swallow food and liquid. These conditions include:

  • Stroke
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, ALS or advanced Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Cancers of the head, neck and chest

The VFSS is completed in the radiology, or X-ray, department of the hospital. A speech pathologist will give you different textures of food and liquid that is specifically made to show in contrast to an X-ray screen. In about 10 minutes or less – you’re done! If your doctor thinks the issue may be due to changes in the function of your esophagus (the tube your food travels in down to your stomach), the appointment may continue with the radiologist for a few minutes longer. This portion of the test is called an esophagram.

Before you leave, the speech pathologist will discuss any findings and recommendations with you. These may include changing the types and textures of food that you eat, completing specific movements and exercises to strengthen muscles involved in swallowing and/or following up for continued evaluation and treatment with speech therapy.

Eating and drinking does not have to be difficult or painful! If you’re experiencing issues with swallowing or are unsure of your symptoms, contact your primary care physician or call Affinity Nurse Direct at 1-800-362-9900 for more assistance.

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