PURPOSE: To determine the effectiveness of dysphagia interventions compared to standard care in improving oral intake and reducing aspiration for adults in acute and critical care.
METHODS: We searched electronic literature for randomised and quasi-randomised trials and bibliography lists of included studies to March 2020. Study screening, data extraction, risk of bias and quality assessments were conducted independently by two reviewers. Meta-analysis used fixed effects modelling. The systematic review protocol is registered and published.
RESULTS: We identified 22 studies (19 stroke, 2 intensive care stroke and 1 general intensive care) testing 9 interventions and representing 1700 patients. Swallowing treatment showed no evidence of a difference in the time to return to oral intake (n = 33, MD (days) - 4.5, 95% CI - 10.6 to 1.6, 1 study, P = 0.15) (very low certainty) or in aspiration following treatment (n = 113, RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.44 to 1.45, 4 studies, I2 = 0%, P = 0.45) (low certainty). Swallowing treatment showed evidence of a reduced risk of pneumonia (n = 719, RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.56 to 0.89, 8 studies, I2 = 15%, P = 0.004) (low certainty) but no evidence of a difference in swallowing quality of life scores (n = 239, MD - 11.38, 95% CI - 23.83 to 1.08, I 2 = 78%, P = 0.07) (very low certainty).
CONCLUSION: There is limited evidence for the effectiveness of swallowing treatments in the acute and critical care setting. Clinical trials consistently measuring patient-centred outcomes are needed.