Hydration and Dysphagia

Hydration and Dysphagia: Strategies for Success

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Hydration and Dysphagia

What do hydration and dysphagia have to do with each other? Can dehydration cause Dysphagia? Or can is cause it to get worse? Focusing on hydration with Dysphagia will give your body more of the tools it needs to successfully eat and drink.

What is hydration and why is it so important, especially if you have swallowing difficulty? Simply put, you need water to survive. Water is an important part of the world, and that includes your body.

Your body and water

As a baby, your body is made up of 75-85% water, but as you grow and develop muscle and fat, this number decreases. A healthy adult body is 60-70% water. A person that is obese has a water content of 45-55% water. Athletes have the highest water content in their bodies because their muscles are constantly working and using the resources in the body, including water.

As we age, our bodies need less water because they naturally do not work as well. However, the more we move and exercise, the greater the need for water is, and this will improve health and longevity (longer life). Having the right amount of water in your body improves how you feel.

Functions of water

Why is this so important? Water has many functions in your body. They include:

  • digestion & absorbing nutrients (food!)
  • excretion (nothing is worse than constipation!)
  • maintaining body temperature (preventing you from getting too hot or cold)
  • blood flow (it moves the red blood cells through your veins)
  • transports necessary items throughout your body
  • energy production
  • hormone regulation
  • prevent infections
  • lubricate joints

Water is distributed throughout your body. It is in your blood vessels, in secretions like sweat and mucous, and in your spinal fluid. This makes up about 20% of your weight. There is also water in your organs and cells, and around them, to keep them working well. When you have swelling (edema), say in your legs or feet, this is water that has come out of those spaces and is “pooling”. It is not doing you any good when this happens.

Drinking water

The first sign that you need to drink water is: thirst. By the time you are thirsty your body is headed toward dehydration. Feeling “dehydrated”‘ means you do not have enough water in your body and you are behind in your water intake.

You also get water through some foods. These foods include: vegetables, fruits, dairy- like milk and yogurt, and meats. Some of these foods have higher water amounts in them than others.

Getting Rid of or Losing water

Your body is always getting rid of water, this is a main reason to keep hydrating (drinking water). You lose water through:

  • Urine: to eliminate toxins and waste from your body
  • Poop: to eliminate solid waste from your body
  • Lungs: when you breath you lose a little bit of water through your breath
  • Sweat: your body sweats to help maintain temperature and you lose water in this process

Storing water

Your body cannot “store” water. This is the reason you have to keep drinking it. The amount of water you need changes daily. As things in your life change, your fluid needs change.

Your Body’s Water needs

Do you exercise regularly or did you recently start or stop exercising? Are you sedentary (not moving very much)? Did you catch a cold, virus, or other infection and are trying to fight it off? Do you have diarrhea? Are you constipated?

Depending on your answer to these questions, your water needs will change daily.

General nutrition reading has an equation for figuring out how much water you need to get into your body daily. Its “technical” and I am happy to share it with you directly if you want to do the math for yourself (or want me to do it for you).

Basically, you need between 2 quarts and 4 quarts daily. Yes, I realize this is a HUGE difference. All the above scenarios will make this number go up or down. Men typically need more than women, but a general rule of thumb is to drink around 8 – 8 fluid oz cups per day.

Hydration and Dysphagia Strategy

So you have trouble swallowing… Being dehydrated can make your ability to swallow worse, which can then lead to worsening dehydration. Its a cruel circle.

Having dry mouth makes swallowing more difficult and potentially painful. You need your saliva to work prior to putting food or drink in your mouth. You should salivate when thinking about eating a strong flavor (like lemon).

Salivating and having moist mucus membranes (I know it sounds gross) will help the food move successfully in your mouth and down your esophagus.

Tips for when you struggle to swallow

Here are a few tips for helping yourself stay hydrated when you struggle to eat and drink:

  • Choose foods that are high in water content like fruits and vegetables
  • Take a sip of liquid between each bite of food
  • Thicken your water (or other drink) if needed to slow down how quickly it moves in your mouth
  • Try to eat small meals or snacks every 2-3 hours
  • Keep a drink with you at all times and sip on it
  • Talk to your Speech Therapist about techniques for safely eating and drinking
  • Talk to your Dietitian for a plan on what to eat and drink and how to prepare it

Medications That Affect Hydration and Dehydration

In addition to having trouble getting fluid into your body, some medications can cause dryness or dehydration in the body. Some purposefully and some as a side effect. There are many reasons to take a medication like this, say for treating allergies and congestion, water retention, etc. Some of these medications include:

  • Benadryl and other antihistamines or decongestants- know to treat allergic reactions, can cause constipation and other drying effects in the body
  • Diuretics (Furosemide, Torsemide, etc.) – makes your body eliminate water through urine,
  • Antidepressants (Doxepin, Amitriptyline, etc.)
  • NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Naproxen) – used to treat inflammation and pain
  • and many more.

Hydration and Dysphagia Conclusion

Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but when you have Dysphagia it can mean a big difference between improving your health or wasting away. You need to keep getting water into your body through food and drink in order for your body to perform the best it can. If you are hydrated it is also easier to swallow than if you are dry.

Staying hydrated will make it easier to get food into your stomach and through your digestive tract. This is also one of the reasons we recommend eating food that has extra moisture in it or added to it.

Take a look at your activity level and the medications you take to find out if you need extra fluid each day. Follow the tips for developing a strategy on getting fluids in.

If you are still struggling and need extra help, the Dysphagia Duo would be happy to talk to you and discuss your options. Book a call with us today!

Good luck and happy hydrating!

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