The Incidence of Dysphagia in Pediatric Patients after Open Heart Procedures with Transesophageal Echocardiography

Lisa M. Kohr, Margaret Dargan, Amy Hague, Suzanne P. Nelson, Elise Duffy, Carl L. Backer, Constantine Mavroudis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Background. Pediatric patients who undergo open heart operations may be at risk for the development of dysphagia because of interventions such as intubation and transesophageal echocardiography. Although the occurrence of dysphagia after cardiac surgical procedures in adults is reported to be 3% to 4%, the incidence in children and adolescents has not been documented. This study was undertaken to determine the incidence of and risk factors contributing to dysphagia in pediatric patients after open heart procedures. Methods. Fifty patients were evaluated after open heart operations with transesophageal echocardiography between March 1, 1999, and September 30, 1999. The diagnosis of dysphagia was made by a speech pathologist using a clinical swallowing evaluation. Potential predictors examined included demographic variables, anatomical diagnosis, surgical procedure, size of the transesophageal echocardiographic probe in relation to body size, length of probe insertion time, preoperative patient acuity status, duration of intubation, and time until discharge. Results. Dysphagia was found in 9 (18%) of the 50 patients. Risk factors identified were age of less than 3 years (odds ratio, 20.4; 95% confidence interval, 2.7 to 157; p = 0.002), intubation prior to operation (odds ratio, 17.7; 95% confidence interval, 9.4 to 210; p = 0.004), intubation for more than 7 days (odds ratio, 74.7; 95% confidence interval, 13.8 to 405; p = 0.001), and operation for leftsided obstructive lesions (odds ratio, 1.9; 95% confidence interval, 2.2 to 8.3; p = 0.038). The size of the transesophageal echocardiographic probe in relation to the weight of the patient was found to be predictive (p = 0.0001) of dysphagia. Vocal cord paralysis was noted in 4 (8%) of the 50 patients postoperatively. Adverse events related to aspiration occurred in 2 patients (4%). At discharge, nasogastric tube feedings were required in 6 patients (12%), and thickened patients. Resolution of dysphagia ranged from 13 to 150 days. Conclusions. Eighteen percent of patients had dysphagia after an open heart operation with transesophageal echocardiography. Age of less than 3 years, preoperative patient acuity status, longer intubation times, and operation for left-sided obstructions are risk factors for dysphagia in this cohort of pediatricpatients. The size of the transesophageal echocardiography probe in relation to the patient's weight was predictive of dysphagia. Physicians should consider using the new mini-multiplane transesophageal echocardiographic probes in patients weighing less than 5.5 kg. Vigilance in monitoring for the signs of preoperative and postoperative dysphagia with prompt referral to a speech therapist can substantially reduce patient morbidity, length of hospital stay, and requirement of prolonged nasogastric tube use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1450-1456
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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