Swallowing biomechanics in tracheostomised critically ill patients compared to age- and gender-matched healthy controls

Sanith S. Cheriyan, Mistyka S. Schar, Charmaine M. Woods, Shailesh Bihari, Charles Cock, Theodore Athanasiadis, Taher I. Omari, Eng H. Ooi

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Objective: The mechanistic effects of a tracheostomy on swallowing are unclear. Pharyngeal high-resolution manometry with impedance (P-HRM-I) is a novel swallow assessment tool providing quantifiable metrics. This study aimed to characterise swallowing biomechanics in tracheostomised critically ill (non-neurological) patients. 

Design: Cohort study. 

Setting: Australian tertiary hospital intensive care unit. 

Participants: Tracheostomised adults, planned for decannulation. 

Main outcome measures: Swallowing assessment using P-HRM-I, compared to healthy age- and gender-matched controls. 

Results: In this tracheostomised cohort (n = 10), the Swallow Risk Index, a global measure of swallow function, was significantly elevated (p < 0.001). At the upper oesophageal sphincter (UOS), hypopharyngeal intrabolus pressure and UOS integrated relaxation pressure were significantly elevated (control 0.65 mmHg [-1.02, 2.33] v tracheostomy 13.7 mmHg [10.4, 16.9], P < 0.001; control −4.28 mmHg [-5.87, 2.69] v tracheostomy 12.2 mmHg [8.83, 15.6], P < 0.001, respectively). Furthermore, UOS opening extent and relaxation time were reduced (control 4.83 mS [4.60, 5.07] v tracheostomy 4.33 mS [3.97, 4.69], P = 0.002; control 0.52 s [0.49, 0.55] v tracheostomy 0.41 s [0.37, 0.45], P < 0.001, respectively). Total pharyngeal contractility (PhCI) measuring pharyngeal pressure generation was significantly elevated (control 199.5 mmHg cm.s [177.4, 221.6] v tracheostomy 326.5 mmHg cm.s [253.3, 399.7]; P = 0.001). 

Conclusion: In a critically ill tracheostomised cohort, UOS dysfunction was the prevalent biomechanical feature, with elevated pharyngeal pressures. Pharyngeal weakness is not contributing to dysphagia in this cohort. Instead, elevated pharyngeal pressures may represent a compensatory mechanism to overcome the UOS dysfunction. Further studies to extend these findings may inform the development of timely and targeted rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-105
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Care and Resuscitation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Deglutition disorders
  • Intensive care unit
  • Manometry
  • Tracheostomy


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