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Open Access Research article

Swallowing abnormalities in HIV infected children: an important cause of morbidity

Etienne D Nel1* and Alida Ellis2

  • * Corresponding author: Etienne D Nel

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Speech and Hearing Department, Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Pediatrics 2012, 12:68  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12-68

Published: 14 June 2012



Swallowing disorders, well recognised in adults, contribute to HIV-infection morbidity. Little data however is available for HIV-infected children. The purpose of this study is to describe swallowing disorders in a group of HIV-infected children in Africa after the introduction of combined anti-retroviral therapy.


We describe 25 HIV-infected children referred for possible swallowing disorders. Clinical and videofluoroscopic assessment of swallowing (VFSS), HIV stage, and respiratory and neurological examination were recorded.


Median age was 8 months (range 2.8-92) and 15 (60%) were male. Fifteen (60%) were referred for recurrent respiratory complaints, 4 (16%) for poor growth, 4 (16%) for poor feeding and 2 (8%) patients for respiratory complaints and either poor growth or feeding. Twenty patients (80%) had clinical evidence of swallowing abnormalities: 11 (44%) in the oral phase, 4 (16%) in the pharyngeal phase, and 5 (25%) in both the oral and pharyngeal phases. Thirteen patients had a videofluoroscopic assessment of which 6 (46%) where abnormal. Abnormalities were detected in the oral phase in 2, in the pharyngeal phase in 3, and in the oral and pharyngeal phase in 1; all of these patients also had evidence of respiratory involvement. Abnormal swallowing occurred in 85% of children with central nervous system disease. CNS disease was due to HIV encephalopathy (8) and miscellaneous central nervous system diseases (5). Three of 4 (75%) patients with thrush had an abnormal oral phase on assessment. No abnormalities of the oesophagus were found.


This report highlights the importance of swallowing disorders in HIV infected children. Most patients have functional rather than structural or mucosal abnormalities. VFSS makes an important contribution to the diagnosis and management of these patients.