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New Service Offers Swallowing Treatment

With a new service available at Goodland Regional Medical Center, patients who have difficulty swallowing can now receive treatment and find relief. VitalStim Therapy is a new treatment modality for speech therapy that can be administered by GRMC Speech Therapist, Jesse Guajardo.

Dysphagia is the clinical term for difficulty with swallowing. It is a condition that impacts as many as 15 million Americans, with approximately one million people each year receiving a new diagnosis of the condition. One in 17 people will develop some form of dysphagia in his or her lifetime, including 50 to 75 percent of stroke patients and 60 to 70 percent of patients who undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. Estimates of dysphagia's prevalence in such neurological diseases as Parkinson's disease and ALS run as high as 90 percent.

VitalStim Therapy can only be administered by healthcare professionals who have passed a certification process. Crystal Schultz, GRMC speech therapist, has training on VitalStim therapy and is among just a few Speech Therapists certified to administer the treatment in northwest Kansas. VitalStim therapy is designed to help swallowing through the use of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES). Electrical stimulation is used to aid muscle strengthening to rehabilitate the swallow. The sensory stimulation that is provided also helps muscle recruitment and swallowing function.

The therapy uses small electrical currents to stimulate the muscles responsible for swallowing. At the same time, Schultz helps patients "re-educate" their muscles through rehabilitation therapy. With repeated therapy, muscles are retrained and swallowing becomes easier.

Some of the symptoms of dysphagia include:
• Coughing/clearing throat after swallowing
• Abnormal volitional cough
• Decreased voice quality
• Recurring chest infections
• Multiple swallows or special maneuvers required to clear throat
• Difficulty completing a meal
• Feeling food being stuck in the throat
• Modified diet required
• Difficulty initiating swallow
• Spilling food or liquid from lips

The treatment is a tool offered through the Speech Therapy Department to assist patients. The VitalStim Therapy is recommended after an evaluation is completed to determine if the treatment is appropriate. The VitalStim therapy is an FDA approved treatment for dysphasgia and Medicare recognizes and provides reimbursement for the treatment of swallowing dysfunction provided the treatment is medically necessary and delivered by a qualified professional.

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