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Movement and Physical Changes

Swallowing Problems

HD causes problems with swallowing liquids and solids that can lead to choking and make it harder to get enough nutrition. Swallowing problems occur when the muscles of the mouth and throat don’t work properly.  

Some issues HD can cause with swallowing and choking:

  • Usually our system knows when to open and close the airway path to keep food out. With poor timing, food and drinks can go down the wrong path. 
  • Not swallowing at the right time and not swallowing completely means that food/drink may dribble out of their mouth and they won’t receive the nutrients they need. 
  • Sometimes people with HD take too large of a bite or too big of a drink to manage at one time. They may also have problems chewing food well enough. 
  • Trouble coordinating breathing and swallowing. 
  • Swallowing too quickly. 
  • Burping or belching.  
  • In the advanced stages of HD, food or drink may go down the wrong pipe and settle in the lungs. Eventually, this can result in aspiration pneumonia which is one of the leading causes of death in people with HD. 
  • Swallowing problems are another way that HD can disrupt normally enjoyable activities such as eating and enjoying meals with others. 

What can you do? 

  • Speech pathologists can perform swallowing assessments and make recommendations.
  • Nutritionist and dietician can recommend food and drinks.
  • Thickening liquid foods. 
  • Pureeing solid foods.
  • Sit upright at the table with chin down. 
  • Eat slowly.
  • Take small bites and sips.
  • Someone else keeping an eye out.
  • Caretakers should be trained in the Heimlich Maneuver.
  • A feeding tube is an option when swallowing becomes very risky. Deciding whether to use a feeding tube is complex and is best discussed long before it is ever needed. 
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