What causes speech articulation problems? 12 possible conditions
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Dysarthria is a motor-speech disorder. It causes the inability to coordinate or control the muscles in the face, mouth, and respiratory system. It usually occurs when a brain injury causes the muscles to become weak or immobile.
People with dysarthria can’t control the muscles used to make normal sounds. Speech becomes slow or slurred. It becomes difficult for others to understand what the person is trying to say.
Dysarthria can affect many aspects of speech. You may lose the ability to pronounce sounds correctly or speak at a normal level. You may also be unable to control the quality, intonation, and pace at which you speak. Individual speech difficulties will vary depending on the location and severity of the brain injury.
Many conditions can cause dysarthria. Some common causes are:
- brain tumor
- brain trauma
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Bell’s palsy
- cerebral palsy
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Huntington’s disease
- lyme disease
- multiple sclerosis
- muscular dystrophy
- myasthenia gravis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Wilson’s disease
- surgery or weakness of the tongue
- medications such as narcotics or tranquilizers that affect the central nervous system
Dysarthria can affect both children and adults. You are at an increased risk for developing dysarthria if you:
- are at a high risk for stroke
- have a degenerative brain disease
- have a neuromuscular disease
- abuse alcohol or drugs
- are in poor health
Symptoms of dysarthria range from mild to severe. Location and severity of the brain injury or the underlying condition influence the type of symptoms. Typical symptoms include:
- slurred speech
- slow speech
- speaking softly or in a whisper
- rapid speech
- voice quality that is nasal, strained, or hoarse
- abnormal, varying rhythm of speech
- changing speech volume
- difficulty controlling facial muscles
- difficulty chewing, swallowing, and controlling the tongue
Several tests can identify and diagnose the cause of dysarthria.
A speech-language pathologist will assess the severity of the disorder. A pathologist will study how you speak and assess how you move your lips, tongue, and facial muscles. Aspects of your voice quality and breathing will also factor into the study.
After your initial examination, your doctor may request any of the following tests:
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan to study a detailed image of your brain, head, and neck
- electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity in your brain
- electromyogram (EMG) to measure the electrical impulses of muscles at rest and during contraction
- nerve conduction study (NCS) to measure the strength and speed with which the nerves send electrical signals
- laboratory blood and urine tests to diagnose an infection or other disease that may be causing the dysarthria
- lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to diagnose infections, central nervous system disorders, and brain cancers
- brain biopsy to examine a piece of a brain tumor
- swallowing study
- neuropsychological tests to measure your cognitive skills and your ability to comprehend speech, reading, and writing
If your symptoms of dysarthria are related to an underlying condition, your physician will treat that disorder first.
If your symptoms are related to the side effects of specific medications, your doctor will work to find alternative medications. Your doctor also may prescribe medication to treat underlying conditions.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if your dysarthria is caused by an operable tumor or lesion in your brain or spinal cord, for example.
A speech language pathologist may be able to help you improve your communication abilities. A speech language pathologist will create a custom treatment plan to address your specific condition. You will likely work to:
- loosen mouth muscles to allow for control of your mouth, lips, and tongue
- strengthen your speech muscles
- slow the rate at which you speak
- improve breathing to allow for louder speech
- improve articulation for clearer speech
- practice group communication skills
- test skills in real-life situations
Working with a speech language pathologist can help you improve your intelligibility and communication function. The American-Speech-Language Hearing Association reports that about two-thirds of adults with central nervous system disease increased their speech skills after intervention by a speech language pathologist (ASHA).
Dysarthria is not always preventable because it is caused by numerous conditions. But you can reduce your risk factors with these steps:
- Control high blood pressure.
- Limit cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt in your diet.
- Stop smoking.
- Control diabetes.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising.
- Keep weight at a healthy level.
- Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Treat obstructive sleep apnea.
- Limit alcohol use.
- Don’t use drugs that aren’t prescribed for your conditions.
- Dysarthria. (2013). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association | ASHA. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/dysarthria.htm
- Dysarthria. (2013). Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/ConditionsAZ/Dysarthria.aspx
- Dysarthria (Neurological Motor Speech Impairment). (n.d.). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/public/TESDysarthria.pdf
- Dysarthria - MayoClinic.com. (2012). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dysarthria/DS01175
- Steps to Improve Communication for Survivors with Dysarthria. (2013). www.strokeassociation.org. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/RegainingIndependence/CommunicationChallenges/Steps-to-Improve-Communication-for-Survivors-with-Dysarthria_UCM_310083_Article.jsp
- Stroke: Prevention - MayoClinic.com. (2012). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stroke/DS00150/DSECTION=prevention
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