What Is Dysphasia?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 19, 2023

Dysphasia, also called aphasia, is a language disorder. It affects how you speak and understand language. People with dysphasia might have trouble putting the right words together in a sentence, understanding what others say, reading, and writing.

Overview of Dysphasia

‌Specific parts of your brain help you speak and understand written and spoken language. Dysphasia happens when those parts of the brain don’t work properly. Dysphasia isn’t a sign of low intelligence or ability. When you have dysphasia, you have difficulty communicating your thoughts and ideas through words.

Language disorders like dysphasia affect how you read, write, speak, and understand others’ speech. They are caused by problems with your brain, not the actual function of your ears, mouth, or other body parts you use to talk and listen. 

Types of Dysphasia

‌All types of dysphasia can be frustrating. Many people with dysphasia know exactly what they want to say but have trouble communicating it through words. There are multiple types of dyshasia, including:

Expressive dysphasia (Wernicke’s dysphasia). With this type of dysphasia, you’re able to physically speak, but others might not understand what you say. The sentences you form in speech or writing don’t always follow grammatical rules. You may say made-up words that sound like they could be words in your language.

Some people refer to this speaking pattern as “word salad”.

Expressive dysphasia is also known as fluent dysphasia, since people who have it speak at the same pace as people without dysphasia. Often, people with expressive dysphasia aren't aware that they have it and think that they are speaking normally. 

Receptive aphasia (Broca’s aphasia). Broca’s dysphasia makes it difficult to put together words to communicate your ideas. People with this type of dysphasia have trouble forming complete sentences while speaking or writing. They may take long pauses between words and talk in very short sentences, such as “Set table” instead of “I set the table”.

Receptive dysphasia is also called nonfluent dysphasia since people who have it speak slower than most people without dysphasia.

Anomic dysphasia. With anomic aphasia, you have difficulty remembering and saying individual words. You may speak clearly and form understandable sentences but forget common words for people, places, or objects. People with anomic dysphasia may use vague terms like “thing” instead of more specific words.‌

Global dysphasia. Global dysphasia is when you have symptoms of both expressive and receptive dysphasia. People with global dysphasia can’t form many coherent words or sentences and have trouble understanding other people. Global dysphasia can become less severe over time. It can also disappear completely after a migraine or seizure.

Progressive dysphasia. This type of dysphasia is first mild and then becomes more severe over time. People with progressive dysphasia may still be able to understand others, but their speech and writing get worse as they age.

Causes of Dysphasia

People aren’t born with dysphasia. It is caused by damage to the language-processing areas of your brain. Dysphasia can be caused by:

Testing for Dysphasia

To determine if you have dysphasia, your doctor may refer you to a specialist called a speech-language pathologist. The pathologist will have you name objects, read, write, or perform other language-related tasks. 

Your doctor may also recommend an electronic scan of your brain, such as a CT scan, PET scan, or MRI. These scans take images of your brain that can show damage and other issues.

Treatment for Dysphasia

Treatment for dysphasia depends on its type. A speech-language pathologist can help create strategies and exercises to remember words. Treatment sessions can be one-on-one or in a group. 

Sometimes, dysphasia improves on its own without treatment.

Helping People Who Have Dysphasia

If you’re not a speech pathologist, you can help people with dysphasia communicate more easily. Ask simple questions, speak clearly, and use hand gestures and facial expressions.

Show Sources


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Classification of Aphasia.”

American Stroke Association: “Types of Aphasia.”

Communication Matters: “Factsheet: Dysarthria and Dysphasia.”

The Internet Stroke Center: “What is Aphasia?”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Aphasia.”

National Aphasia Association: “Global Aphasia,”  “How Do You Treat Aphasia?," "Primary Progressive Aphasia," “What are the Different Types of Aphasia?”

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Aphasia.”

Stroke Association: “Aphasia and its effects,” “Types of aphasia.”

Understood: “Language disorders: What you need to know.”

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