Many patients with dysphagia are unable to safely swallow thin liquids. Thin liquids can be aspirated (go down the wrong way), which can lead to pneumonia.
Thickened fluids can be swallowed more safely than thin liquids as they travel more slowly, allowing the person more time to co-ordinate the swallow response.
Fluid consistency and food texture are graded according to the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) framework. This provides a common terminology and consists of a continuum of 8 levels ranging from 0 to 7. Drinks can be Levels 0 to 4, foods can be Levels 3 to 7:
- IDDSI Level 0: ‘thin’ (the consistency of water)
- IDDSI Level 1: ‘slightly thick’
- IDDSI Level 2: ‘mildly thick’
- IDDSI Level 3: ‘moderately thick’ (the same consistency as liquidised food)
- IDDSI Level 4: ‘extremely thick’ (the same consistency as pureed food)
Thickening agents can be used to modify the consistency of thin liquids to IDDSI Levels 1, 2, 3 or 4.
Finding the correct thickness level for the patient
The speech and language therapist will determine the appropriate IDDSI Levels of fluid consistency and food texture for the patient. This will be documented in the swallow assessment report.
It is important to find out the consistency of fluid and food a person can swallow safely. Too thin and the patient is at risk of aspiration, too thick and the liquid can leave a residue that can be aspirated.