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What is dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a motor-speech disorder. It happens when you can’t coordinate or control the muscles used for speech production in your face, mouth, or respiratory system. It usually results from a brain injury or neurological condition, such as a stroke.

People with dysarthria have difficulty controlling the muscles used to make normal sounds. This disorder can affect many aspects of your speech. You may lose the ability to pronounce sounds correctly or speak at a normal volume. You may be unable to control the quality, intonation, and pace at which you speak. Your speech may become slow or slurred. As a result, it may be difficult for others to understand what you’re trying to say.

The specific speech impairments that you experience will depend on the underlying cause of your dysarthria. If it’s caused by a brain injury, for example, your specific symptoms will depend on the location and severity of the injury.

What are the symptoms of dysarthria?

Symptoms of dysarthria can range from mild to severe. Typical symptoms include:

  • slurred speech
  • slow speech
  • rapid speech
  • abnormal, varied rhythm of speech
  • speaking softly or in a whisper
  • difficulty changing the volume of your speech
  • nasal, strained, or hoarse vocal quality
  • difficulty controlling your facial muscles
  • difficulty chewing, swallowing, or controlling your tongue
  • drooling

What causes dysarthria?

Many conditions can cause dysarthria. Examples include:

Who is at risk of dysarthria?

Dysarthria can affect both children and adults. You’re at higher risk of developing dysarthria if you:

  • are at high risk of stroke
  • have a degenerative brain disease
  • have a neuromuscular disease
  • abuse alcohol or drugs
  • are in poor health

How is dysarthria diagnosed?

If they suspect you have dysarthria, your doctor may refer you to a speech-language pathologist. This specialist can use several examinations and tests to assess the severity and diagnose the cause of your dysarthria. For example, they will evaluate how you speak and move your lips, tongue, and facial muscles. They may also assess aspects of your vocal quality and breathing.

After your initial examination, your doctor may request one or more of the following tests:

  • swallowing study
  • MRI or CT scans to provide detailed images of your brain, head, and neck
  • electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity in your brain
  • electromyogram (EMG) to measure the electrical impulses of your muscles
  • nerve conduction study (NCS) to measure the strength and speed with which your nerves send electrical signals
  • blood or urine tests to check for an infection or other disease that may be causing your dysarthria
  • lumbar puncture to check for infections, central nervous system disorders, or brain cancer
  • neuropsychological tests to measure your cognitive skills and your ability to comprehend speech, reading, and writing

How is dysarthria treated?

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan for dysarthria will depend on your specific diagnosis. If your symptoms are related to an underlying medical condition, your doctor may recommend medications, surgery, speech-language therapy, or other treatments to address it.

For example, if your symptoms are related to the side effects of specific medications, your doctor may recommend changes to your medication regimen.

If your dysarthria is caused by an operable tumor or lesion in your brain or spinal cord, your doctor may recommend surgery.

A speech-language pathologist may be able to help you improve your communication abilities. They may develop a custom treatment plan to help you:

  • Increase tongue and lip movement.
  • Strengthen your speech muscles.
  • Slow the rate at which you speak.
  • Improve your breathing for louder speech.
  • Improve your articulation for clearer speech.
  • Practice group communication skills.
  • Test your communication skills in real-life situations.

Preventing dysarthria

Dysarthria can be caused by numerous conditions, so it can be hard to prevent. But you can reduce your risk of dysarthria by following a healthy a lifestyle that lowers your chance of stroke. For example:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level.
  • Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Limit cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt in your diet.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Don’t use drugs that aren’t prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, take steps to control it.
  • If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan.
  • If you have obstructive sleep apnea, seek treatment for it.

What is the outlook for dysarthria?

Your outlook will depend on your specific diagnosis. Ask your doctor for more information about the cause of your dysarthria, as well as your treatment options and long-term outlook.

In many cases, working with a speech-language pathologist may help you improve your ability to communicate. For example, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports that about two-thirds of adults with central nervous system disease can improve their speech skills with the help of a speech-language pathologist.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Anna Zernone Giorgi
Medically reviewed on: Nov 28, 2016: Sara Minnis, MS, CCC-SLP

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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