What Is Dysarthria?

The muscles in your lips, tongue, vocal cords, and diaphragm work together to help you speak clearly. With dysarthria, the part of your brain that controls them doesn't work well and it's hard for you to move those muscles the right way. Other people may not be able to understand you very well.

Some people with dysarthria have only minor speech problems. Others have a lot of trouble getting their words out. A speech-language therapist can help.

Symptoms

Dysarthria can make your speech:

  • Flat
  • Higher or lower pitched than usual
  • Jerky
  • Mumbled
  • Slow or fast
  • Slurred
  • Soft, like a whisper
  • Strained

It also can change the quality of your voice. You might sound hoarse or stuffed up, as if you have a cold.

Because dysarthria can make it harder to move your lips, tongue, and jaw, it can also make it harder for you to chew and swallow. Trouble swallowing can cause you to drool.

Causes

Conditions that cause this speech problem include:

Diagnosis

If you have trouble speaking, you should see a speech-language pathologist (SLP). She'll ask about any diseases you have that could affect your speech.

She'll also want to check the strength of the muscles in your lips, tongue, and jaw as you talk. She might ask you to:

  • Stick out your tongue
  • Make different sounds
  • Read a few sentences
  • Count numbers
  • Sing
  • Blow out a candle

Treatment

Speech-language therapy is the only treatment for dysarthria. How much your speech may improve depends on the condition that caused it.

Your therapist will teach you:

  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles of your mouth and jaw
  • Ways to speak more clearly, such as talking more slowly or pausing to catch your breath
  • How to control your breath to make your voice louder
  • How to use devices like an amplifier to improve the sound of your voice

Your therapist also will give you tips to help you communicate, such as:

  • Carry a notebook or smartphone with you. If someone doesn't understand you, write or type what you want to say.
  • Make sure you have the other person's attention.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Talk face to face if you can. The other person will be able to understand you better if they can see your mouth move.
  • Try not to talk in noisy places, like at a restaurant or party. Turn down music or the TV before you speak, or go outside.
  • Use facial expressions or hand gestures to get your point across.
  • Use short phrases and words that are easier for you to say.

Continued

The therapist will work with your family to help them understand you better. She may suggest that they:

  • Ask if they don't understand something
  • Give you time to finish what you have to say
  • Look at you when they talk with you
  • Repeat the part they understood so you don't have to say the whole thing again
  • Try not to finish your sentences for you

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on November 11, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: "Dysarthria."

American Stroke Association: "Steps to Improve Communication for Survivors with Dysarthria."

National Health Services: "Dysarthria (difficulty speaking)."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Dysarthria in Multiple Sclerosis."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Dysarthria."

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