Interventions for problems with swallowing and poor nutrition in patients who have had a recent stroke

Stroke is often complicated by problems with swallowing (dysphagia) and poor nutrition. Normal oral feeding in those with swallowing problems may lead to pneumonia and an increased risk of death. Therapies to improve swallowing are designed to accelerate recovery of swallowing function and reduce the risk of developing pneumonia. We reviewed 33 studies involving 6779 patients (the average age of patients across the studies was 71 years). There was some evidence that acupuncture and behavioural interventions may reduce dysphagia but the roles of drug therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, pharyngeal electrical stimulation, physical stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation remain unclear. Liquid food may be given directly into the stomach through feeding tubes, either via the gullet, using a nasogastric tube (NGT), or directly into the stomach via a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube. Starting tube feeding (with either NGT or PEG) early after stroke may reduce death although the information available remains inconclusive. If longer-term feeding is required PEG feeding provides better nutrition and is more secure than a NG tube. The available trial evidence does not support the routine use of protein and energy supplements in acute stroke patients who are able to take food by mouth; supplements may show benefit in those who have signs of malnutrition, for example through reducing pressure sores.

Authors' conclusions: 

There remains insufficient data on the effect of swallowing therapy, feeding, and nutritional and fluid supplementation on functional outcome and death in dysphagic patients with acute or subacute stroke. Behavioural interventions and acupuncture reduced dysphagia, and pharyngeal electrical stimulation reduced pharyngeal transit time. Compared with NGT feeding, PEG reduced treatment failures and gastrointestinal bleeding, and had higher feed delivery and albumin concentration. Nutritional supplementation was associated with reduced pressure sores, and increased energy and protein intake.

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Background: 

Dysphagia (swallowing problems) are common after stroke and can cause chest infection and malnutrition. Dysphagic, and malnourished, stroke patients have a poorer outcome.

Objectives: 

To assess the effectiveness of interventions for the treatment of dysphagia (swallowing therapy), and nutritional and fluid supplementation, in patients with acute and subacute (within six months from onset) stroke.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (February 2012), MEDLINE (1966 to July 2011), EMBASE (1980 to July 2011), CINAHL (1982 to July 2011) and Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Science (CPCI-S) (1990 to July 2011). We also searched the reference lists of relevant trials and review articles, searched Current Controlled Trials and contacted researchers (July 2011). For the previous version of this review we contacted the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and equipment manufacturers.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in dysphagic stroke patients, and nutritional supplementation in all stroke patients, where the stroke occurred within six months of enrolment.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently applied the inclusion criteria, assessed trial quality, and extracted data, and resolved any disagreements through discussion with a third review author. We used random-effects models to calculate odds ratios (OR), 95% confidence intervals (95% CI), and mean differences (MD). The primary outcome was functional outcome (death or dependency, or death or disability) at the end of the trial.

Main results: 

We included 33 studies involving 6779 participants.

Swallowing therapy: acupuncture, drug therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, pharyngeal electrical stimulation, physical stimulation (thermal, tactile), transcranial direct current stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation each had no significant effect on case fatality or combined death or dependency. Dysphagia at end-of-trial was reduced by acupuncture (number of studies (t) = 4, numbers of participants (n) = 256; OR 0.24; 95% CI 0.13 to 0.46; P < 0.0001; I2 = 0%) and behavioural interventions (t = 5; n = 423; OR 0.52; 95% CI 0.30 to 0.88; P = 0.01; I2 = 22%). Route of feeding: percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) and nasogastric tube (NGT) feeding did not differ for case fatality or the composite outcome of death or dependency, but PEG was associated with fewer treatment failures (t = 3; n = 72; OR 0.09; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.51; P = 0.007; I2 = 0%) and gastrointestinal bleeding (t = 1; n = 321; OR 0.25; 95% CI 0.09 to 0.69; P = 0.007), and higher feed delivery (t = 1; n = 30; MD 22.00; 95% CI 16.15 to 27.85; P < 0.00001) and albumin concentration (t = 3; n = 63; MD 4.92 g/L; 95% CI 0.19 to 9.65; P = 0.04; I2 = 58%). Although looped NGT versus conventional NGT feeding did not differ for end-of-trial case fatality or death or dependency, feed delivery was higher with looped NGT (t = 1; n = 104; MD 18.00%; 95% CI 6.66 to 29.34; P = 0.002). Timing of feeding: there was no difference for case fatality, or death or dependency, with early feeding as compared to late feeding. Fluid supplementation: there was no difference for case fatality, or death or dependency, with fluid supplementation. Nutritional supplementation: there was no difference for case fatality, or death or dependency, with nutritional supplementation. However, nutritional supplementation was associated with reduced pressure sores (t = 2; n = 4125; OR 0.56; 95% CI 0.32 to 0.96; P = 0.03; I2 = 0%), and, by definition, increased energy intake (t = 3; n = 174; MD 430.18 kcal/day; 95% CI 141.61 to 718.75; P = 0.003; I2 = 91%) and protein intake (t = 3; n = 174; MD 17.28 g/day; 95% CI 1.99 to 32.56; P = 0.03; I2 = 92%).

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