Clinical implications of respiratory–swallowing interactions

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Purpose of review

Swallowing disorders impact the health and quality of millions of lives of patients across the age spectrum. The broad scope of the problem is in contrast to the volume of methods that we have to treat the problem. Investigators are testing interventions that go beyond the swallowing system and are targeting those that cross or overlap with swallowing function. This review will highlight the potential clinical implications of respiratory–swallowing cross-system interaction in health and disease.

Recent findings

A collection of current studies demonstrates a tight neural coupling between the central control of respiration and swallowing. Results from recent studies suggest that this neural coupling may be altered under certain conditions of development, age, disease, and eating/swallowing tasks.


The functional significance of cross-system neural control on respiratory–swallowing coordination is far from understood. Preliminary data, however, show destabilization of respiratory–swallowing patterns in various neurological diseases and in head and neck cancer. These findings suggest the need to develop a line of research that tests the effects of therapeutic strategies that transcend swallowing and include cross-system interactions such as respiratory–swallow phase patterning.

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