Electrical stimulation for swallowing and speech disorders

The HPA Health Group offers innovative technology in the treatment of swallowing difficulties and speech disorders. This new technology is the only one in the Algarve and one of the few in Portugal.

The Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation device was developed in the United States in the year 2000, but has only very recently been made available in Europe.

It is a portable system, with specific electrodes which are applied to the muscles used for swallowing and in speech.

Combined with traditional exercises, it enhances strength, restoring muscle function more quickly, while at the same time stimulating neuromotor control more effectively, due to its bio feedback mechanism. This works by sending an electromyographic signal, perceived by the patient and the therapist who will both recognise muscular response.

Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation has been quoted in scientific literature as having an important role in rehabilitation.

It can be used to increase muscle strength as well as in the treatment of stiff, limited movement joints due to soft tissue restrictions or weakness. It can also be used effectively in stimulating the neuromuscular performance and movement control of weak inactive muscles.

As the device gives feedback of the muscular contraction, it then permits the individual to maximise muscular performance of the exercises.

It has been applied with success in cases of neurological or mechanical dysphagia, dysphonia, as well as in deficient and weak facial muscles. It has also been used successfully on oral muscles with limited movement.

Dysphagia is defined as a swallowing disorder characterised by difficulty in chewing and swallowing food. Symptoms of dysphagia may include coughing when swallowing or after swallowing, choking on food or liquids, a feeling of food sticking to the throat, pain when swallowing, or difficulty in breathing when eating.

One of the symptoms of dysphagia may be functional (usually neurogenic, for example after a stroke) or of mechanical origin. It may also be secondary to illness such as after a tracheotomy due to the tubes used, or certain drugs.

When dysphagia is a permanent condition, it causes clinical instability, which can lead to complications such as aspiration pneumonia, dehydration, malnutrition and even death. Treatment with the Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation device requires prior training by the speech therapist.

At the moment, Dr. Vera Mangas, who is a speech therapist at the Hospital Particular do Algarve, is the only therapist trained in this technique. She is also the only therapist in the Iberian Peninsula with qualifications and experience in this area.

By Vera Mangas
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Vera Mangas, speech therapist, has a Masters Degree in Language Development and Language Disturbances, and a Postgraduate Degree in Oropharyngeal Dysphagia and Orofacial Motricity.