Dysarthria

Overview

What is dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a speech disorder that happens because of muscle weakness. Motor speech disorders like dysarthria result from damage to the nervous system. Many neuromuscular conditions (diseases that affect the nerves controlling certain muscles) can result in dysarthria. In dysarthria, the muscles used to speak become damaged, paralyzed or weakened.

How does dysarthria affect me?

If you have dysarthria, you may have difficulty forming and pronouncing words. Other people may have trouble understanding what you say. Speech problems can cause difficulties in social situations, jobs and school.

Dysarthria affects many parts of the body needed for speech, including the:

  • Tongue.
  • Larynx (voice box).
  • Surrounding muscles.

What are the types of dysarthria?

The type of dysarthria depends on the part of the nervous system affected:

  • Central dysarthria: Caused by damage to the brain.
  • Peripheral dysarthria: Caused by damage to what the organs needed for speech.

Dysarthria can be developmental or acquired:

  • Developmental dysarthria happens as a result of brain damage, either before a baby is born or at birth. For example, cerebral palsy can cause dysarthria. Children tend to have developmental dysarthria.
  • Acquired dysarthria happens as a result of brain damage later in life. For example, a stroke, a brain tumor or Parkinson’s disease can result in dysarthria. Adults tend to have acquired dysarthria.

How common is dysarthria?

Researchers don’t know exactly how common dysarthria is. It is more common in people who have certain neurological conditions, such as:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): Up to 30% of people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) have dysarthria.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Around 25% to 50% of people with MS get dysarthria at some point.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Dysarthria affects 70% to 100% of people with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Stroke: About 8% to 60% of people with stroke have dysarthria.
  • Traumatic brain injury: Some 10% to 65% of people with traumatic brain injury have dysarthria.

Is dysarthria the same as apraxia?

Apraxia is another motor speech condition. It’s similar to dysarthria because both involve problems with muscle tone or motor planning (the plan and act of moving muscle). In apraxia, people have normal muscle function but have difficulty making voluntary movements like speaking. There’s a problem getting the message from the brain to the muscles that tells the muscles to move.

Other speech conditions can be related to dysarthria:

  • Dysphagia: Trouble swallowing, which may be a symptom of dysarthria.
  • Aphasia: Difficulty understanding others or explaining your thoughts.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes dysarthria?

The causes of dysarthria depend on the type of disorder. Both types can occur at birth or develop later in life.

Central dysarthria may result from any illness or injury that leads to brain damage. Some examples are:

Neuromuscular diseases also can cause central dysarthria:

Peripheral dysarthria develops from damage to the speech organs that changes the way a person sounds. Causes include:

  • Congenital (being born with) structural problems.
  • Surgery to the head, neck, tongue or voice box.
  • Trauma to the face or mouth.

What are the symptoms of dysarthria?

The main symptom of dysarthria is a change in the way you talk. People may have trouble understanding you because you:

  • Speak more quickly, slowly or softly than intended.
  • Have speech that becomes slurred, mumbled, robotic or choppy.
  • Have difficulty moving your lips, jaw or tongue.
  • Sound hoarse, breathy or nasal.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is dysarthria diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and do a physical exam. A speech-language pathologist may also evaluate you to help figure out how severe the problem is. These providers will check your ability to breathe and move your lips, tongue and face. You may need to do some movement and language tasks, such as:

  • Bite your lower lip.
  • Blow out a candle.
  • Count.
  • Repeat words and sentences.
  • Sing.
  • Stick out your tongue.

What tests might I need to diagnose dysarthria?

Other tests you may need include:

  • MRI or CT scans of the neck and brain.
  • Evaluation of your ability to swallow.
  • Electromyography to test the electrical function of your muscles and nerves.
  • Blood tests (to look for signs of infection or inflammation).

Management and Treatment

How is dysarthria treated?

Your healthcare provider will create a treatment plan for you based on the severity of your symptoms. People with dysarthric speech benefit from speech therapy to improve communication. Speech-language pathologists can also work with your family and loved ones to help them learn how to better communicate with you.

During speech therapy sessions, you can learn:

  • Exercises to strengthen mouth muscles.
  • Ways to slow down speech.
  • Strategies to speak louder, such as using more breath.
  • Ways to say sounds clearly.
  • Movements to chew and swallow safely.
  • Different communication techniques, such as gestures or writing.

If the condition is severe, you may need a device to communicate with people. These devices include a letter or picture board or a special computer with a keyboard and message display.

Prevention

Are there conditions that put me at higher risk for dysarthria?

Any condition that affects the brain can increase your risk for dysarthria. If you have a neuromuscular disease, brain tumor or brain injury, talk to your healthcare provider. They will discuss your risk for dysarthria and help you manage it.

Outlook / Prognosis

What are some tips for speaking with dysarthria?

If you have dysarthria, these tips can help you communicate better:

  • Speak slowly and loudly.
  • Start with a topic word, so listeners know what you want to talk about.
  • Avoid talking when you feel tired.
  • Pause frequently.
  • Use shorter sentences.
  • Check to make sure your listeners understand.
  • Write or draw if you’re having difficulty talking.

What tips can others use to talk to me?

Your family, friends and loved ones can use these strategies to improve communication with you. They should:

  • Talk to you in a quiet area with good lighting.
  • Pay close attention to you when you’re talking.
  • Let you know if they don’t understand what you’re saying.
  • Repeat what they did understand, so you don’t have to start from the beginning.
  • Ask yes or no questions to help you communicate.
  • Encourage you to write or point if you’re having trouble.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about dysarthria?

If speaking becomes difficult, contact your healthcare provider. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience choking, repeated coughing or pneumonia.

What else should I ask my healthcare provider if I have dysarthria?

If you have dysarthria or difficulty speaking, ask your healthcare provider:

  • What’s causing the dysarthria?
  • What treatments are available?
  • Will speech therapy help me?
  • Is surgery an option?
  • How can I improve my ability to speak?
  • Should I use a communication device?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you have dysarthria, a speech disorder that causes slurred speech, people may have trouble understanding you. Speech therapy can help you learn to communicate better and improve your quality of life. Speech therapists can also help your friends and family members learn communication strategies. If you have problems speaking clearly or moving your lips, tongue and jaw, share your concerns with your healthcare provider.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/16/2020.

References

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. . Accessed 1/5/2021.Dysarthria (https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/dysarthria/)
  • Merck Manual Consumer Version. . Accessed 1/5/2021.Dysarthria (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/brain-dysfunction/dysarthria)
  • National Health Service (NHS). . Accessed 1/5/2021.Dysarthria (Difficulty Speaking) (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dysarthria/)

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy