Talking -- the ability to share our thoughts and needs with others -- is something we tend to take for granted. But what if you suddenly can't get the words out, or can't say them in your usual way?
Speech problems that seem to come out of nowhere may be temporary, or they could have lasting impact.
Feeling Tired or Stressed
Simply being tired or fatigued can make it hard to think of the right words. And when you're worried about being judged by others or feel embarrassed, you may freeze up or struggle to talk.
It's OK to be nervous. Don't worry so much about being perfect. Taking that pressure off of yourself might get your words flowing again.
Too Much to Drink
Alcohol is widely known to cause slurred speech because it slows down how the brain communicates with the body. Your liver can only break down a little alcohol at a time, leaving the rest in your bloodstream. The more you drink, the more intense the effects and the longer they last.
If you're concerned about your drinking, ask your doctor for advice.
Trouble speaking, along with having a numb or drooping face and feeling weak in one arm, is one of the three major signs of stroke. When the oxygen supply has been cut off to your brain by a blood clot, you could have slurred speech or be hard to understand, or be unable to talk at all.
Call 911 as soon as stroke symptoms appear so that trained emergency workers can get you to the right hospital quickly. Don't wait or try to get there on your own.
A severe migraine headache can also mess with your words. This is called transient aphasia because it will go away.
Migraines are known for being very painful and sometimes leading to changes in the senses, too. Up to one-fourth of people who have migraines say they get an aura ahead of time, where they see flashing lights or have blind spots. Other symptoms you could have with an aura or during the migraine are numbness, dizziness, confusion, or trouble speaking. You can even feel these symptoms without having a painful headache.
The exact causes of migraine aren't fully clear, but some can be prevented by watching your diet and lifestyle, using prescription medications, and taking certain vitamins. Treatment for the headaches may include over-the-counter painkillers and nausea medicines as well as prescription drugs.
If you find migraines are getting in the way of your daily life, your regular doctor may refer you to a specialist called a neurologist.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that changes how the brain sends information between its cells and with the rest of the body. People with MS who have lesions in areas of the brain responsible for speech can have speech issues that range from mild to severe. A common pattern in MS is "scanning speech": the rhythm of how you talk has extra-long pauses between words and syllables.
Weak muscles and trouble coordinating the muscles in your mouth and cheeks can make it hard for someone with MS to say words, too.
Brain cancer, if the tumor is in the part of the brain that handles language, could also affect your speech. Other common symptoms of brain cancer are headaches, seizures, changes in personality or memory, nausea, unusual sleepiness, and struggling to do daily activities.
One type of seizure, a sudden burst of brain activity that people with epilepsy have, affects specific muscles depending on where in the brain it happens. Another type can make people look awake but actually unaware of what's going on around them. They may also make strange noises, gag, or smack their lips and not realize they've done it. Seizures could be caused by strokes or brain tumors that affect the language zones, too.
A wide range of medications and supplements -- from allergy medications to blood pressure drugs and even high doses vitamin C -- can affect your voice by drying out the mucus that protects your vocal cords. They also can thin your blood, which means your vocal cords would be easier to injure. They can make your body retain fluid, which enlarges your vocal cords and could make you hoarse.
Some narcotics and sedatives can slow or slur speech by making it hard for you to control your mouth muscles.
Not being able to speak normally is a side effect of the antidepressant bupropion. Topiramate, a medicine for controlling seizures, might lead to speech problems like finding the right words, though these typically go away when your doctor lowers the doses or you stop taking the drug.
If you've just begun taking a new medicine, check its label, the package insert, or ask your pharmacist if that could be related to your speech problems.