Stroke Recovery: Coping With Eating Problems

Overview

Some people have trouble swallowing, called dysphagia, after a stroke. You may not be able to feel food on one or both sides of your mouth. You may also have problems chewing or producing enough saliva. Or you may have other conditions that make eating difficult and increase your risk of choking or breathing in food or liquids (aspiration).

Other things that may interfere with normal eating include:

  • Problems seeing or judging where things are, especially on the side of your body affected by the stroke.
  • Problems recognizing familiar objects or remembering how to do everyday things.
  • Paralysis or weakness or trouble controlling movements (apraxia).
  • Problems with smell, taste, or the sense of feeling.
  • Depression, which can cause a loss of appetite and requires treatment.

If you have eating problems after a stroke, you will need a thorough evaluation by a speech-language pathologist or another rehabilitation specialist. You may need special X-rays to see how you are swallowing.

As you recover from a stroke, your rehabilitation team will monitor your progress. Your team will help you get the nutrition you need. They will help you regain your ability to swallow more easily and safely. Swallowing and eating problems often improve over time, but some may last for the rest of your life.

How do you manage eating problems?

If you are having problems eating or swallowing after a stroke, work with your speech-language pathologist and rehab team to find out what help you need. You will have a care plan that is made just for you. Here are some examples of things that may help someone eat and swallow safely.

  • Eat when you are rested and at your best.

    If you become tired with larger meals, eat small, frequent meals.

  • Sit as upright as possible.

    In some cases, your swallowing team will recommend a different position.

  • Avoid distractions (such as watching TV) and talking.
  • Allow enough time for meals so that you are not rushed.
  • Take small bites and sips.

    Finish each bite or sip before taking the next.

  • Stay upright for at least 30 minutes after meals and snacks.
  • Follow any food or fluid consistencies prescribed by your therapist.
    • Eat and drink the food and fluid consistencies recommended by your rehabilitation (rehab) team.
    • Follow the food or fluid thickening instructions given by your rehab team (if appropriate).
    • Take your medicines one at a time with the food or fluid consistency recommended by your rehab team.
  • Talk with your pharmacist if you have trouble swallowing your pills.
  • Remember to brush your teeth, tongue, gums, and cheeks twice a day, even if you wear dentures.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: March 28, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Richard D. Zorowitz MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation