The Effect of Improved Dysphagia Care on Outcome in Patients with Acute Stroke: Trends from 8-Year Data of a Large Stroke Register
BACKGROUND: Early dysphagia screening and appropriate management are recommended by current guidelines to reduce complications and case fatality in acute stroke. However, data on the potential benefit of changes in dysphagia care on patient outcome are limited. Our objective was to assess the degree of implementation of dysphagia guidelines and determine the impact of modifications in dysphagia screening and treatment practices on disease complications and outcome in stroke patients over time. METHODS: In this prospective register-based study ("Stroke Register of Northwestern Germany"), all adult stroke patients admitted to 157 participating hospitals between January, 2008 and December, 2015 were included (n = 674,423). Dysphagia incidence upon admission, the proportion of patients receiving a standardized swallowing screening, and the percentage of dysphagic patients being referred to a speech language therapist (SLT) for treatment were obtained per year. Pneumonia rate, modified Rankin Scale (mRS) at discharge, and in-hospital mortality were compared between groups of dysphagic vs. non-dysphagic patients over time. RESULTS: Screening proportions continuously increased from 47.2% in 2008 to 86.6% in 2015. But the proportion diagnosed with dysphagia remained stable with about 19%. The number of dysphagic patients receiving SLT treatment grew from 81.6 up to 87.0%. Pneumonia incidence was higher in dysphagic stroke cases (adjusted OR 5.4 [5.2-5.5], p < 0.001), accompanied by a worse mRS at discharge (adjusted OR for mRS ≥3: 3.1 [3.0-3.1], p < 0.001) and higher mortality (adjusted OR 3.1 [3.0-3.2], p < 0.001). The order of magnitude of these end points did not change over time. CONCLUSION: Although advances have been made in dysphagia care, prevalent screening and treatment practices remain insufficient to reduce pneumonia rate, improve functional outcome, and decrease case fatality in dysphagic stroke patients. More research is urgently needed to develop more effective swallowing therapies.