Electrical stimulation reduces swallowing problems in patients with neurological conditions, finds new study

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Using electrical stimulation in the throats of patients recovering from conditions such as strokes or head injuries will help to relieve swallowing problems, leading to a quicker recovery time, according to a new study.

People with neurological conditions, such as stroke and head injury, often have problems with swallowing food and drinking safely, which is called “neurogenic dysphagia”.

Unfortunately there are few effective treatments and many people subsequently develop pneumonia, which leads to extended stays in hospital and many even die.

In response to this, a group of experts carried out PHADER - the largest-ever study testing whether electrical stimulation of the back of the throat (pharynx), using a treatment catheter, would improve swallowing in people with a recent stroke or head injury, or who had been in an intensive care unit and needed ventilation.

The study was a collaborative project between experts at the Universities of Nottingham and Manchester and the University of Münster in Germany, and was funded by Phagenesis - a company dedicated to the treatment of dysphagia.

The observational study recruited 255 patients from 14 different centres in Austria, Germany and the UK, with five different neurological conditions. Electrical stimulation was administered once daily for three days, and the outcome was then measured on the severity of the dysphagia at three months.

The findings of the research, published today in EClinicalMedicine, showed that most people’s swallowing problems improved, and so allowing feeding tubes to be removed and for patients to be discharged from hospital.

The treatment catheters were easy to insert into the back of the throat and no serious complications attributable to the treatment occurred.

PHADER is the largest-ever study of electrical stimulation, and our findings show that most people’s swallowing problems improved after receiving the treatment, which is a potential game changer for patients with severe swallowing problems who previously were at risk of complications including pneumonia. It will also mean quicker discharge from hospital for these patients.”
Professor Philip Bath from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, and co-lead investigator on the study

Professor Shaheen Hamdy from The University of Manchester and co-lead Investigator said: “This study shows conclusively that electrical stimulation of the throats of these patients can help improve their ability to swallow safely and that is tremendously exciting. We clearly show the device is easy to use, safe and most critically, impacts on swallowing recovery in a range of disorders, which could make a major difference to patients’ quality of life. We feel this constitutes a new avenue for treatment in this sometimes life-threatening condition and are looking forward to seeing this technology go from strength to strength”.

Professor Rainer Dziewas from the University of Münster and co-lead Investigator said: “These results are fascinating since most patients were treated in a chronic state of the illness, where it is usually extremely difficult to achieve any treatment success. PHADER clearly suggests that electrical stimulation may help even in this notoriously difficult situation. However, it is important to mention that patients with dysphagia should be treated as early as possible for best outcomes.”

Reinhard Krickl, CEO Phagenesis, said: “PHADER not only confirms the very encouraging outcomes of previous studies in stroke patients, but also demonstrates that patients suffering from dysphagia after brain injury, or who had been in an intensive care unit and needed long periods of ventilation, will benefit from electrical stimulation using our treatment system, Phagenyx®. We have even just recently learned that our treatment can improve swallowing in critically-ill COVID-19 patients after weeks of mechanical ventilation. In times of crisis like in the current global pandemic, this could be incredibly important in helping patients with life-threatening dysphagia recover faster allowing medical teams to make ICU resources available for other patients much faster.”

The full study can be read here.


Charlotte Anscombe - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Phone: 0115 748 4417

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham

Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.  

The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
C Floor, Pope Building (Room C4)
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798