Clinical Evaluation Not Sensitive for Aspiration

A recent retrospective study (in press): abstract link: Presenting Signs and Symptoms do not Predict Aspiration Risk in Children DR Duncan et al. J Pediatr 2018;  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.05.030

From Boston Children’s Hospital Notes (9/12/18):

  • More than 80 percent of aspiration was silent
  • Rosen, Duncan and colleagues also found that observed feedings, even by very skilled clinicians, are not sensitive enough to diagnose aspiration in children because of the high rates of silent aspiration. Based on statistical analyses, the degree of agreement between observed feeding and the VFSS was poor for the diagnosis of aspiration.
  • Almost a third of the patients experienced symptoms during or after meals, which may help explain why physicians frequently misdiagnose oropharyngeal dysphagia with aspiration as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Full abstract:

Objectives

To determine if any presenting symptoms are associated with aspiration risk, and to evaluate the reliability of clinical feeding evaluation (CFE) in diagnosing aspiration compared with videofluoroscopic swallow study (VFSS).

Study design

We retrospectively reviewed records of children under 2 years of age who had evaluation for oropharyngeal dysphagia by CFE and VFSS at Boston Children’s Hospital and compared presenting symptoms, symptom timing, and CFE and VFSS results. We investigated the relationship between symptom presence and aspiration using the Fisher exact test and stepwise logistic regression with adjustment for comorbidities. CFE and VFSS results were compared using the McNemar test. Intervals from CFE to VFSS were compared using the Student ttest.

Results

A total of 412 subjects with mean (±SD) age 8.9 ± 6.9 months were evaluated. No symptom, including timing relative to meals, predicted aspiration on VFSS. This lack of association between symptoms and VFSS results persisted even in the adjusted multivariate model. The sensitivity of CFE for predicting aspiration by VFSS was 44%. Patients with a reassuring CFE waited 28.2 ± 8.5 days longer for confirmatory VFSS compared with those with a concerning CFE (P < .05).

Conclusions

Presenting symptoms are varied in patients with aspiration and cannot be relied upon to determine which patients have aspiration on VFSS. The CFE does not have the sensitivity to consistently diagnose aspiration so a VFSS should be performed in persistently symptomatic patients.

My take: This study provides more data indicating that clinical evaluations are not reliable in children less than 2 years of age to exclude formal swallow study evaluations and that some symptoms attributed to reflux are in fact due to aspiration.

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