What causes speech articulation problems? 12 possible conditions

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What Is Dysarthria?

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.

What Causes Dysarthria?

Many conditions can cause dysarthria. Some common causes are:

  • stroke
  • brain tumor
  • brain trauma
  • infection
  • 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

Who Is at Risk for Dysarthria?

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

What Are the Symptoms of Dysarthria?

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
  • drooling

How Is Dysarthria Diagnosed?

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

How Is Dysarthria Treated?

If your symptoms of dysarthria are related to an underlying condition, your physician will treat that disorder first.

Medications

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. 

Surgeries

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

Alternative Therapies

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

What Is the Outlook for Dysarthria?

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).

Preventing Dysarthria

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.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder. It first presents with problems of movement. Smooth and coordinated muscle movements of the body are made possible by a substance in the brain calle...

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2

Stroke Overview

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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3

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle movement and coordination caused by an injury to a child's brain that occurs before birth or during infancy. It affects the part of the brain that controls body movement. Othe...

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4

Acute Cerebellar Ataxia

The cerebellum is the area of the brain responsible for controlling muscle coordination. If it becomes inflamed or damaged, you may suddenly lose coordination. This is called acute cerebellar ataxia (ACA), o...

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5

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromusclar disorder. It results in weakness of the skeletal muscles, and can cause double vision and drooping of the eyelid.

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6

Laryngitis

Laryngitis occurs when the voice box or vocal cords become inflamed from overuse, irritation, or infection. It can be short or long term. The inflammation that causes laryngitis can be tied to a variety of conditions...

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7

Nasal Polyps

Have you ever felt like you have a cold that never goes away? Nasal congestion that doesn't seem to go away, even with over-the-counter cold or allergy medication, may be caused by nasal polyps. Nasal polyps are benig...

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8

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils (the lymph tissue in your throat) become infected. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, and swollen tonsils. Fortunately, it's normally easily diagnosed and treated.

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9

Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is a cancer that originates in the lungs. Lung cancer often goes undetected in the early stages, since symptoms don't usually present themselves until the advanced stages of the disease.

Read more »

10

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. It's especially common in children. Look out for sudden fever, a red throat with white patches, headache, and chills.

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11

Necrotizing Vasculitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Necrotizing vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessel walls, typically small and medium-sized vessels. This inflammation can interrupt normal blood flow, resulting in damage to skin and muscle including necrosis ...

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12

Snake Bites

According to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, about 5,000 snake bite cases are reported every year in the U.S.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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