-- Randy Dotinga
FRIDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- Electrical stimulation of
the brain could help stroke patients avoid potentially dangerous
problems with swallowing, preliminary research indicates.
The treatment has only been tested in a small number of patients
and needs further exploration. Still, the findings published online
March 24 in the journal
Stroke are "encouraging," said Dr. Larry B. Goldstein,
director of the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University Medical
An estimated 795,000 people suffer a stroke each year in the
United States, and most of them survive, according to the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many lose some of
their ability to swallow, a problem known as dysphagia.
"Post-stroke swallowing difficulty is an important problem. Up to half of stroke patients studied have dysfunctional swallowing, and up to a third of these patients aspirate, swallowing material that enters the windpipe rather than going into the stomach," Goldstein explained. "This can cause pneumonia, which can prolong hospitalization, interfere with recovery or increase the chances of dying."
In the new study, researchers mildly stimulated the brains of
patients through electrodes placed on the scalp. The idea is to
boost activity in certain parts of the brain.
Patients who received the treatment had an easier time
swallowing than patients who didn't. Eighty-six percent of patients
who received the treatment improved their swallowing by at least
two points on a seven-point scale, while only 43 percent of other
The 14 patients in the study had all suffered strokes between
one and seven days earlier, and were being treated at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
"Further studies are warranted to refine this promising intervention by exploring effects of stimulation parameters, frequency of stimulation, and timing of the intervention in improving swallowing functions," the researchers wrote.
For more about
dysphagia, visit the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
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