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Stroke. 2005 Sep;36(9):1972-6. Epub 2005 Aug 18.

Formal dysphagia screening protocols prevent pneumonia.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Saint Elizabeth's Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA.



Pneumonia is an important complication of ischemic stroke and increases mortality 3-fold. Five guidelines recommend a dysphagia screen before oral intake. What constitutes an adequate dysphagia screen and which patients should receive it remain unclear.


Fifteen acute care institutions prospectively collected data on all admitted patients with acute ischemic stroke. Sites were required to collect data on demographics and 4 quality indicators. Optional data included stroke severity and complications. We measured adherence to a screen for dysphagia, the type of screen, and development of in-hospital pneumonia.


Between December 2001 and January 2003, 2532 cases were collected. In-hospital complications were recorded on 2329 (92%) of cases. Stroke severity was captured on 1361 (54%). Adherence to a dysphagia screen was 61%. Six sites had a formal dysphagia screen, and their adherence rate was 78% compared with 57% at sites with no formal screen. The pneumonia rate at sites with a formal dysphagia screen was 2.4% versus 5.4% (P=0.0016) at sites with no formal screen. There was no difference in median stroke severity (5 versus 4; P=0.84) between the sites with and without a formal screen. A formal dysphagia screen prevented pneumonia even after adjusting for stroke severity.


A formal dysphagia screen is associated with a higher adherence rate to dysphagia screens and a significantly decreased risk of pneumonia. A formal screening protocol should be offered to all stroke patients, regardless of stroke severity.

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