Dysarthria is a speech disorder caused by a lack of muscle control that occurs when the parts of the brain that control speech are damaged. It can also be caused by problems that don’t involve the brain, such as a condition affecting the muscles and nerves in the mouth or throat.
The condition is mainly characterized by slurred speech. It can also cause atypical changes in speech and voice rhythm, depending on the type of dysarthria.
Dysarthria itself is not a medical emergency. But sudden dysarthria can be caused by stroke or traumatic brain injury, and these require urgent medical attention.
In general, dysarthria cannot be cured or reversed. However, it is possible to improve your ability to speak and communicate using certain therapies.
Read on to learn more about dysarthria symptoms, types, and treatment.
The type of dysarthria depends on the part of the brain affected. These types include:
Flaccid dysarthria is caused by damage to lower motor neurons. This involves the cranial and spinal nerves.
Cranial nerves connect your brain to other areas of your head and neck. Spinal nerves connect your spinal cord to other parts of the body.
In spastic dysarthria, upper motor neurons on one or both sides of the brain are damaged. It involves areas that control movement.
Unilateral upper motor neuron dysarthria
Unilateral upper motor neuron dysarthria (UUMN) is considered a milder form of spastic dysarthria. It is also one of the most common types of dysarthria.
Often it is caused by a stroke. It involves damage to upper motor neurons, which control movement.
In ataxic dysarthria, the connections between the cerebellum and other parts of the brain are damaged.
Hypokinetic dysarthria is caused by a problem with the control circuitry of the basal ganglia, a type of pathway in the brain. The basal ganglia are the part of the brain that controls motor function.
This type is often associated with Parkinson’s disease, which causes slow movements and stiffness.
Hyperkinetic dysarthria is caused by damage to the basal ganglia control circuitry. It is commonly seen in conditions like Huntington’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome.
This type of dysarthria mainly causes unpredictable speech production.
Mixed dysarthria occurs when there are two or more types of dysarthria. An example is spastic-flaccid dysarthria, which is seen in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Mixed dysarthria is the most common type of dysarthria. The exact characteristics depend on the dysarthrias involved.
Symptoms of dysarthria depend on the type. They can also vary in severity.
In general, dysarthria causes:
- slurred speech
- slow or fast speech
- irregular rhythm of speech
- speech too soft or loud
- harsh or breathy voice
- difficulty controlling your tongue or lips
- increased nasal resonance (excessive noise coming out of the nose)
- monotonous volume or intensity
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- drooling (due to dysphagia)
- jerky speech made up of short sentences
Dysarthria is caused by brain damage. It can happen at birth, as in cerebral palsy.
In other cases, brain damage may be due to injury or disease. Examples include:
Both children and adults can develop dysarthria. However, you may be more likely to develop the disease if you:
- have a high risk of stroke
- have a degenerative brain disease
- have a neuromuscular disease
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and using illegal drugs can also cause temporary inebriated dysarthria.
Diagnosing dysarthria requires several tests. A healthcare professional will use several methods to diagnose dysarthria, including:
- Medical background. A doctor will review your medical history to determine the cause. This will also help rule out other causes.
- Physical examination. A physical exam allows your doctor to look for signs of injury or brain trauma. It can help test sensation, movement, and vision. It can also distinguish between causes like stroke or infection.
- Blood and urine tests. Urinalysis and blood tests allow your doctor to check for signs of infection.
- Imaging tests. An imaging test, such as an MRI, can help diagnose neurological disorders.
- Genetic tests. If your doctor suspects a genetic mutation, he will order a genetic test.
- Speech tests. A speech therapist may ask you to make sounds, speak, read words, or count numbers. They will examine your speech and your mouth.
Generally, treatment for dysarthria is only part of a larger management plan. This is because it is usually caused by an underlying condition.
Dysarthria is treated with speech therapy. The goal is to improve your ability to speak and communicate.
This type of therapy is offered by a speech therapist or pathologist (SLP). Therapy may involve:
- exercises to improve the strength and function of affected muscles
- strategies for speaking slowly
- strategies for learning to over-articulate words correctly
- strategies for learning to use artificial voice software
- exercises to learn to control the volume of speech
Your doctor might also recommend acupuncture or transcranial magnetic brain stimulation to stimulate affected muscles.
If you notice any changes in your speech, contact a speech therapist or pathologist. This is especially important if you are at risk for dysarthria.
You should contact a primary care doctor or speech-language pathologist if you have:
- slurred speech
- difficulty moving the tongue, lips, or jaw
- difficulty raising your voice
- unexplained changes in your voice
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty pronouncing certain sounds
Dysarthria can make it difficult to communicate with others. This can have a negative effect on psychological well-being and social relationships.
In most cases, dysarthria is incurable. The exception is dysarthria with a temporary cause, such as Bell’s palsy or medication.
However, if you have dysarthria, it is possible to improve your quality of life and your ability to communicate. It needs:
- regular speech therapy
- routine checkups with a healthcare professional
- management of underlying conditions
- support from family and friends
The success of treatment also depends on many factors, including:
- your underlying condition
- location and severity of brain damage
- your general state of health
It is possible for people with dysarthria to have meaningful and quality conversations with other people. The following strategies can help:
Advice for people with dysarthria
If you have dysarthria, try these techniques:
- Take a deep breath before speaking.
- Speak slowly. If necessary, say one word at a time.
- Face the person you are talking to.
- Speak in short sentences.
- Repeat if you need to.
- Limit or avoid background noise by turning off the television or radio.
- If you are able, bring a pen and paper and write some words.
Tips for those not affected
If you don’t have dysarthria, here’s what you can do to communicate better with those who do:
- Look at the person when they speak.
- Limit or avoid background noise.
- Give them time to respond. Avoid rushing them.
- Avoid finishing sentences or correcting words.
- Ask “yes or no” questions to confirm that you heard correctly. For example, you can ask, “Did you ask if I got the mail?” »
- Be patient and kind.
Dysarthria is a speech disorder caused by brain damage. It may be difficult to move the muscles in your face and mouth, leading to slurred speech.
There are many causes of dysarthria, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, degenerative brain disease, and medications. Strokes and traumatic brain injuries require immediate medical attention.
Treatment of dysarthria involves speech therapy. This involves working with a professional speech therapist, who can show you how to improve your ability to communicate.