A recent study published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition ESPEN delves into the realm of geriatric care for patients experiencing acute heart failure (AHF). Specifically, the research explores how sarcopenia and malnutrition—two prevalent issues in the elderly—affect the critical function of swallowing. Using tools like ultrasonography, the study untangles the intricate interplay between these physical states and the mechanisms of deglutition. This comprehensive news article illuminates the study’s findings, methodological milestones, and its implications on clinical practice, teasing out how at-risk groups could be better managed and treated.


As we move deeper into the 21st century, the intersection of various age-related conditions demands closer scrutiny, primarily because of the growing elderly population. Sarcopenia, a dreaded muscle-degrading disease, aligns with malnutrition not only as a corollary of aging but as a co-conspirator in compounding health risks in elderly patients facing acute heart failure (AHF).

In a study titled “Impact of sarcopenia and malnutrition on swallowing function utilizing ultrasonography in patients with acute heart failure: A retrospective cohort study” and published in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN [DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2023.12.021], an incisive exploration into how these two conditions influence swallowing function was presented via a retrospective cohort study. The authors, led by Matsuo Koji K from Sagamihara Kyodo Hospital in Japan, thrust us into a critical issue that geriatric medicine faces: ensuring safe, adequate nutrition in the face of heart failure exacerbated by sarcopenia and malnutrition.


This rigorous research marshaled a statistical cohort of 131 elderly patients, all over the age of 65, admitted with the diagnosis of AHF. The cohort was subdivided, predicated upon presence or absence of sarcopenia (per the Asian Working Group for Sarcopenia 2019 criteria), nutritional risk (gauged by a geriatric nutritional risk index lower than 92), or both. These groups were compared against a “robust” cohort that did not exhibit sarcopenia or nutritional risk.

Focusing on an assortment of swallowing-related muscle indicators and utilizing ultrasonography, the team scrutinized metrics such as maximal hyoid displacement, geniohyoid muscle area and brightness, and maximal tongue pressure. Function was further assessed by the Food Intake LEVEL Scale (FILS), pulling data from the patients’ medical records.


The findings presented by the research team are both revelatory and cautionary. Those categorized as having both sarcopenia and nutritional risk (the “complicated” group) exhibited notably inferior swallowing function than their counterparts in the sarcopenia-alone and robust groups. This is a crucial insight since dysphagia (the medical term for swallowing difficulties) can lead to grave consequences, including aspiration pneumonia, nutritional deficiencies, and a marked decline in the quality of life.

Furthermore, a Cox proportional hazards model showcased that the complicated group had a significantly lower cumulative event rate of maintaining a FILS score ≥ 9. This score is indicative of proper food intake, hinting toward a safer eating protocol and less risk of morbidities associated with dysphagia.


The study is a linchpin that connects the domains of cardiology, geriatrics, and nutrition. Its implications are vast, especially when considering the appropriate clinical path—whether it involves therapeutic exercises, dietary modifications, or even mechanical intervention—to improve or maintain swallowing function.

One intriguing aspect is the use of ultrasonography, a non-invasive and readily accessible imaging technique, which offers a window into the functional status of swallowing-related musculature. This usage not only provides a diagnostic boon but also an ongoing assessment tool throughout hospitalization.

The results spur a conversational gambit about how preemptive strategies can be entrenched within hospital protocols to mitigate the risk of sarcopenia and malnutrition. Could a more aggressive nutritional supplementation or resistance training regime for at-risk patients dampen the blow to swallowing function? These are questions that subsequent research could address.

Implications on Clinical Practice

Given these findings, clinicians should be particularly vigilant in tagging patients who are dually compromised by sarcopenia and malnutrition. An interdisciplinary approach that ropes in dietitians, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists could be seminal in managing these patients holistically.

Furthermore, an integrated care pathway, perhaps flagged upon admission of such at-risk patients, might serve as both preventative and reactive maneuvering against the onslaught of dysphagia. It could streamline the process of monitoring and intervening, thus fortifying the patient’s nutritional state and overall prognosis.


“Matsuo et al.’s study is pivotal, for it not only casts a spotlight on the compounding effect of sarcopenia and malnutrition on swallowing function but also champions the proactive role of ultrasonography in patient management,” affirms Dr. Yoneki Kei, a co-author of the study. These findings are set to recalibrate the canon of best practices for elderly patients with AHF, focusing on the pivotal symbiosis between nutritional status and muscle function in swallowing—an essential, though often overlooked, the element of recovery and the quality of life.


1. Matsuo, K. et al. (2024). Impact of sarcopenia and malnutrition on swallowing function utilizing ultrasonography in patients with acute heart failure: A retrospective cohort study. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 59, 296-306. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2023.12.021
2. Cruz-Jentoft, A.J., et al. (2010). Sarcopenia: European consensus on definition and diagnosis. Age and Ageing, 39(4), 412-423.
3. Bouillanne, O., et al. (2005). Geriatric Nutritional Risk Index: A new index for evaluating at-risk elderly medical patients. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(4), 777-783.
4. Cichero, J.A.Y. (2013). Thickened fluids and modified diets: Safety issues related to dysphagia management. Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 7(1), 19-27.
5. Volkert, D., et al. (2019). ESPEN guideline on clinical nutrition and hydration in geriatrics. Clinical Nutrition, 38(1), 10-47.


1. Sarcopenia in Heart Failure
2. Swallowing Dysfunction Ultrasonography
3. Malnutrition Elderly Patients
4. Dysphagia Acute Heart Failure
5. Geriatric Nutrition Risk Index