Fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing in intensive care unit patients

Gert Hafner, Andreas Neuhuber, Sylvia Hirtenfelder, Brigitte Schmedler and Hans Edmund Eckel

European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 2008, Volume 265, Number 4, Pages 441-446


Aspiration in critically ill patients frequently causes severe co-morbidity. We evaluated a diagnostic protocol using routine FEES in critically ill patients at risk to develop aspiration following extubation. We instructed intensive care unit physicians on specific risk factors for and clinical signs of aspiration following extubation in critically ill patients and offered bedside FEES for such patients. Over a 45-month period, we were called to perform 913 endoscopic examinations in 553 patients. Silent aspiration or aspiration with acute symptoms (cough or gag reflex as the bolus passed into the trachea) was detected in 69.3% of all patients. Prolonged non-oral feeding via a naso-gastric tube was initiated in 49.7% of all patients. In 13.2% of patients, a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy was initiated as a result of FEES findings, and in 6.3% an additional tracheotomy to prevent aspiration had to be initiated. In 59 out of 258 patients (22.9%), tracheotomies were closed, and 30.7% of all 553 patients could be managed with the immediate onset of an oral diet and compensatory treatment procedures. Additional radiological examinations were not required. FEES in critically ill patients allows for a rapid evaluation of deglutition and for the immediate initiation of symptom-related rehabilitation or for an early resumption of oral feeding.

Keywords  Aspiration – Deglutition – Swallowing – Dysphagia – Tracheotomy – Rehabilitation – Endoscopy – Laryngology


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