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Examining the relationship between sepsis and oropharyngeal dysphagia in hospitalised elderly patients: a retrospective cohort study


Introduction Elderly people are recognised to be at increased risk of oropharyngeal dysphagia (OPD), the causes of which are multifactorial. Our aim was to identify if sepsis is associated with OPD in the elderly during hospitalisation in the absence of known other risk factors for OPD.

Methods A hospital electronic database was searched for elderly patients (≥65 years) referred for assessment for suspected dysphagia between March 2013 and 2014. Exclusion criteria were age <65 years, pre-existing OPD or acute OPD secondary to acute intracranial event, space-occupying lesion or trauma. Data were collected on factors including age, sex, comorbidities, existing OPD, sepsis, microbiology, recovery of OPD and medication. Sepsis was defined as evidence of a systemic inflammatory response syndrome with a clinical suspicion of infection.

Results A total of 301 of 1761 screened patients referred for dysphagia assessment met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of sepsis and subsequent OPD was 16% (51/301). The mean age was 83 years (median 81 years). The most common comorbidity was dementia (31%). The majority (84%) failed to recover swallowing during their hospital stay, 12% had complications of aspiration and 35% died. The most common source of sepsis was from the chest (55%). Other factors contributing to the risk for dysphagia included delirium (22%) and neuroactive medication (41%). However, 10% of patients had sepsis and subsequent OPD without other identified risk factors.

Conclusion The prevalence of sepsis and subsequent dysphagia is significant and should be taken into account in any elderly person in hospital with new-onset OPD without other predisposing risk factors.

  • sepsis
  • dysphagia
  • elderly

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