No bitter pill

Maggie Diebolt

Oct. 21, 2008

No bitter pill

MUSC professor creates tool thatís easy to swallow

CHARLESTON -- Each year approximately 10 million Americans are evaluated for swallowing difficulties, and between 300,000 and 600,000 individuals are diagnosed with a swallowing disorder (dysphagia). Swallowing is one of the most complex processes in the human body, and many health disorders can produce dysphagia. To garner data and federal funding to study effective treatments for those suffering from dysphagia, Bonnie Martin-Harris, Ph.D., founder and director of the Evelyn Trammell Institute for Voice and Swallowing, and professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), led a team of researchers to create the first standardized tool to measure swallowing impairment.

"MBS Measurement Tool for Swallowing ImpairmentóMBSImp: Establishing a Standard" will appear in the December 2008 print issue of Dysphagia. An abstract of the article can be found by visiting:

A swallowing disorder typically is a combination of physiologic impairments that occurs during eating and drinking. It can impact a personís quality of life and lead to serious and sometimes fatal medical conditions including malnutrition, dehydration and aspiration pneumonia. Through the creation of the Modified Barium Swallowing Impairment Profile (MBSImp), Martin-Harris provides a tool that will allow health care providers in clinical practice and clinical research to optimize the safety, accuracy and appropriateness of evaluation methods used in patients with dysphagia.

"The development of the MBSImp is the first known study that demonstrates the clinical utility and validity of measuring swallowing function in a large group of patients across medical diagnoses," Martin-Harris said. "The MBSImp has the potential for widespread clinical and research application."

There is limited data on the incidence and prevalence of swallowing disorders in the United States, Europe and Asia, primarily because dysphagia is a condition, and not a reportable disease. Despite this classification, dysphagia can result from common diseases and disorders. Patients may experience swallowing impairment due to symptoms stemming from medical issues relating to cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Huntingtonís Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinsonís Disease, ALS and Cerebral Palsy, among others.

The modified barium swallowing (MBS) exam has been the instrument of choice for assessing swallowing disorders and determining the course of treatment. Performed in conjunction with a radiologist, the MBS exam can identify swallowing impairment relating to oral tongue and combined pharyngeal clearance and airway protection. It is relatively non-invasive and well-tolerated by most patients. Until now, there has been no universally accepted, valid, reliable, and clinically practical method for capturing the impairment and comparing the results of modified barium swallowing studies (MBS) between clinics and research laboratories.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.6 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit or