Frequently Asked Questions

What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia is defined as difficulty swallowing. Symptoms of dysphagia can include coughing while swallowing or after swallowing, choking on food or liquid, the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, pain during swallowing, shortness of breath during feeding and onset of pneumonia.

What is the VitalStim® Therapy System?

A therapeutic intervention for the management of dysphagia and difficulty swallowing. The VitalStim® Therapy System uses small electrical currents to stimulate the muscles responsible for swallowing. At the same time, trained specialists help patients "re-educate" their muscles through rehabilitation therapy.

How does it work?

A small, carefully calibrated current is delivered to the motor nerves of the patient's throat through specially designed electrodes causing the muscles responsible for swallowing to contract. At the same time, a dysphagia specialist guides the patient through active swallowing therapy to re-educate normal swallow function.

How is VitalStim different from conventional swallowing therapy?

Conventional therapy for dysphagia typically employs both compensatory strategy techniques (diet changes, head positioning or modifying bolus size) and specific techniques aimed at improving the coordination and strength of the swallowing muscles (thermal stimulation, biofeedback, mendelssohn maneuver or supraglottic swallow). The VitalStim® Therapy System is the use of electrical stimulation for activation of muscles. Research shows that the combination of electrical stimulation and traditional treatment techniques is very effective at restoring swallowing function.

How long is a treatment session?

Treatment sessions last up to an hour, depending on patient condition and tolerance.

Does VitalStim hurt?

No. The VitalStim® Therapy System is a non-invasive, painless treatment.

Who can receive VitalStim?

VitalStim is effective for both sexes and all ages.

Who cannot receive VitalStim?

The VitalStim® Therapy System should not be used directly over an active neoplasm or infection. It should be used with caution in patients with seizure disorders and patients with implanted electronics (e.g., pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, deep brain stimulators). Some patients may not respond well to VitalStim. This may include patients with significant lower motor neuron damage and patients with severely impaired cognition. A certified VitalStim clinician can give you more information about candidacy for this treatment.

What are the side effects of VitalStim?

Occasionally, patients may experience skin irritation as a result of the adhesive used to secure the stimulation electrode to the anterior portion of the neck.

What medical specialists provide VitalStim?

Medical specialists that commonly specialize in swallowing disorders include Speech-Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists.

Does insurance cover VitalStim?

Medicare recognizes and provides reimbursement for the treatment of swallowing dysfunction provided the treatment is medically necessary and delivered by a qualified professional. Additional reimbursement for the delivery of the electrical stimulation is typically not covered by insurance. Contact your insurance carrier to verify coverage.

Where can I find a facility that offers VitalStim?

Click on “Find a VitalStim Provider” at the very top of this page.

Information on this site is for your reference only and should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. It's important to discuss diagnosis and treatment information with your doctor.