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ALTON - June is National Dysphagia Awareness Month, and Kristi Davis with OSF St. Anthony's Health Center in Alton kicked off the month by sharing more information about the condition on Our Daily Show! on Riverbender.com.

Davis, a speech-language pathologist at OSF, said everyone can occasionally experience dysphagia.

“Dysphagia is a very fancy word that means difficulty swallowing,” Davis said. “Everybody has had that moment where you drink something, you eat something, you laugh or whatever, and it feels like it’s going down the wrong way - it’s because sometimes it does.”

She said the act of swallowing alone works about 50 different pairs of muscles within your mouth and throat - in some cases such as a stroke, where a patient’s entire left or right side is affected, dysphagia can be caused by those muscle pairs not working together properly, making swallowing more difficult.

Davis added that dysphagia can also be a symptom of another medical condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, head/neck cancer, and more. However, dysphagia can get better as treatments for those conditions conclude, or through therapy to improve muscle function in certain cases.

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As patients are given different things to eat and swallow, X-rays allow Davis to see which muscles need the most attention - and also if the problem is in the patient’s airway or esophagus, both in close proximity.

“If one pathway has taken over the other, I can actually see that happening,” she said. “That way, I can see what muscles we need to work on, if it’s a strength problem, [or] if it’s a structural problem.”

She also advises patients with dentures to avoid sleeping with them in, as she once had a patient swallow their denture, requiring an intricate procedure and additional physicians to retrieve it.

OSF’s community-centric approach benefits not only therapists like Davis, but also their patients, who don’t have to go far to experience more personalized care.

“I love the sense of community,” Davis said of OSF. “You get that personal feel - I can look at the whole person because I’ve got time to do so.

“It’s so much fun being in the community or seeing the sister or seeing the mom that later comes to the hospital and says, ‘I had to come back to see you guys because I felt taken care of,’ and that means a lot, because we get to take care of our patients in every way.”

To find out more about dysphagia, National Dysphagia Awareness Month, and OSF St. Anthony's, see the full interview with Davis at the top of this story or on Riverbender.com/video.

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