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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

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Speech and Swallowing Problems From MS

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Treatment for Speech Problems

If muscle stiffness is making it hard for you to speak, medications might help. Your speech therapist might also suggest:

  • Exercises to strengthen or relax your vocal cords or improve how you move your jaw, tongue, and lips
  • Strategies other than speech that can help you communicate with others. You might focus on using shorter words and phrases or ways to simplify words, sentences, or sounds.
  • Practice controlling your breath. It can help you speak longer sentences in one breath or accent specific words.

There are other ways to manage your speech problems, too:

  • Don’t feel rushed or pressured when you’re trying to talk. If you feel comfortable, it may help to let the other person know you have a speech problem.
  • Try to talk with someone face-to-face whenever possible. Your facial expressions and gestures can help you get your point across.
  • If a conversation goes on too long, ask if you can take a break.
  • Try to relax. If you can keep a positive attitude, it might put you and the other person at ease so you won’t feel anxious about understanding each other.

Treatment for Swallowing Problems

A speech therapist can also help with swallowing problems. She might suggest changes in diet, positioning of your head, or exercises that can help. In very severe cases, feeding tubes can deliver nutrients and fluids directly into the stomach.

Along with therapy, there are things you can do to make swallowing easier:

  • Sit upright at a 90-degree angle, tilt your head slightly forward, or stay sitting or standing upright for 45 to 60 minutes after you eat.
  • Stay focused on the tasks of eating and drinking. Keep distractions away. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  • Go slowly. Aim to eat about 1/2 teaspoon of your food at a time.
  • You may need to swallow two or three times per bite or sip. If food or liquid catches in your throat, cough gently or clear your throat, and swallow again before you take a breath.
  • Concentrate on swallowing often. Try alternating a bite of food with a sip of liquid.
  • Try different temperatures and textures of liquids. For example, you can make drinks colder or try carbonated beverages.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Suck on popsicles, ice chips, or lemon-flavored water to get your mouth to make more saliva, which will help you swallow more often.
  • If chewing is hard for you, stay away from foods that need a lot of jaw power.
  • If thin liquids make you cough, try thickening them. You can also substitute thin liquids with thicker ones -- nectars for juices and cream soups for plain broths, for instance.
  • When you take medication, crush your pills and mix them with applesauce or pudding. Ask your pharmacist to let you know which pills you shouldn’t crush and which medicines you can buy in a liquid form.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on September 02, 2015
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