Introduction: Dysphagia screening protocols have been recommended to identify patients at risk for aspiration. The American Heart Association convened an Evidence Review Committee to systematically review evidence for the effectiveness of dysphagia screening protocols to reduce the risk of pneumonia, death, or dependency after stroke.
Methods: The Medline, Embase, and Cochrane databases were searched on November 1, 2016, to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing dysphagia screening protocols or quality interventions to increased dysphagia screening rates, and reporting outcomes of pneumonia, death or dependency.
Results: Three RCTs were identified. One RCT (n=1,126) found that a combined nursing quality improvement intervention targeting fever and glucose management as well as dysphagia screening reduced death and dependency (42% vs. 58%, p=0.002), but without reducing the pneumonia rate (2.1% vs. 2.7%, p=0.82). Another RCT (n=311) failed to find evidence that pneumonia rates were reduced by adding the cough reflex test to routine dysphagia screening (26% vs. 21%, p=0.38). A smaller RCT (n=162) randomly assigned 2 hospital wards to a stroke care pathway including dysphagia screening or regular care, and found that patients on the stroke care pathway were less likely to require intubation and mechanical ventilation (7.8% vs. 20%, p=0.03 after adjustment); however, the study was small and at risk for bias.
Conclusions: There were insufficient RCT data to determine the effect of dysphagia screening protocols on reducing rates of pneumonia, death, or dependency after stroke. Additional trials are needed to compare the validity, feasibility, and clinical effectiveness of different screening methods for dysphagia.