What is dysarthria?
Dysarthria is a speech disorder that is caused by weak, paralyzed, or damaged oral muscles. Those who have dysarthria usually have trouble speaking along with poor articulation, poor phonation, and poor respiration. Others may also have a hard time understanding people who have the condition due to their slow or slurred speech.
The inability to normally articulate words is common in people with dysarthria. Their speech can be monotonous, imprecise, irregular, breathy, and jerky, although their language is correctly understood and used. Practitioners may evaluate people's oral muscle control and strength by asking them to do simple tasks. There are people who can greatly benefit from speech therapies. Although some may think that dysarthria is associated with language problems, the problem actually comes from weak muscles.
Causes of Dysarthria
Dysarthria is commonly caused by neurological disorders, such as brain injury, stroke, brain tumors, and other conditions that cause weakness in the throat or tongue and facial paralysis. The condition can also be caused by certain medications, such as sedatives or narcotics.
Other conditions that can result in dysarthria may include:
- Head injuries
- Cerebral palsy
- Lyme disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Parkinson's disease
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Huntington's disease
- Wilson's disease
People with dysarthria cannot control their tongue, larynx, and surrounding muscles, which is why they have a difficulty in forming and pronouncing words. The severity of the condition usually depends on the type of dysarthria and the affected part of the person's nervous system. To help improve a person's speech, the underlying cause of dysarthria must be treated.
Types of Dysarthria
Dysarthria has several types:
- Hypokinetic Dysarthria - This disorder is often a result of Parkinson’s disease caused by a lesion in the substantia nigra, which is a midbrain structure that plays a significant role in movement, addiction, and reward. Frequent blows to the head and certain antipsychotic medications can also cause this disorder.
- Hyperkinetic Dysarthria - This disorder is usually associated with involuntary movements caused by basal ganglia lesions. The damage may also be bilateral or unilateral.
- Flaccid Dysarthria - This disorder is a result of damage to the cranial nerves (lower motor neurons) that are involved in speech.
- Spastic Dysarthria - This disorder involves fine motor movement difficulties caused by damage to the motor regions of the cortex.
- Ataxic Dysarthria - This disorder results from a cerebellar control circuit damage that affects a person's phonation, articulation, resonance, and respiration.
Signs and Symptoms
People with dysarthria usually have varying signs and symptoms, depending on the type of dysarthria and its underlying cause. The signs and symptoms of dysarthria may include:
- Difficulty controlling the tongue or facial muscles
- Slow and slurred speech
- Fast speech that can be difficult to understand
- Monotonous speech
- Abnormal speech pattern
- Uneven speech volume
- Strained, raspy, or nasal voice
- Speaking too loudly or speaking very quietly
Consult a doctor right away if you have difficulty speaking. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you identify the cause of your speech problem and ensure that it will not get worse. Your speech and language are tested by a speech-language pathologist to know if you have dysarthria or other problems.
The SLP will observe and test the following:
- How you talk
- How well you understand
- Listen to your sentences, words, and conversation
- How well you breathe
- How well you move your tongue, lips, and mouth
Other tests may also be performed, and they include:
- Blood tests
- Speaking and swallowing evaluation
- An MRI or CT scan of the brain and neck
Management and Treatment
The only treatment for dysarthria is speech-language therapy. Your speech improvement may also depend on your main condition. An SLP will help and teach you different methods or techniques to improve your speech, such as:
- How to speak more clearly
- How to talk more slowly
- Know when to pause to catch your breath
- How to make your voice louder
- How to strengthen your jaw and mouth muscles
- How to use an amplifier and other devices to improve the quality of your voice
Your therapist will also coordinate with your family and explain your condition to help them understand you better. The therapist may suggest the following tips:
- Looking at you when a having conversation
- Properly ask if they don't understand something from you
- Repeat words or sentences that they understood, so you won't have to repeat yourself
- Trying not to finish sentences on your behalf
- Giving you enough time to finish and express what you need to say
When to See a Doctor
Immediately consult a doctor if you experience an unexplained or sudden change in your speech. People with dysarthria usually require immedicate medical attention.
Initially, you may consult a general practitioner or family doctor about your condition. If your primary care provider suspects a specific medical condition that's causing your symptoms, you will be referred to a neurologist, a nervous system specialist, for further tests and evaluation.
The following are some tips to help you prepare for your doctor's appointment:
- Write down your questions beforehand.
- Write down all of your symptoms even if they seem to be unrelated to your condition.
- Include any recent life events, major stresses, and other personal information in your notes.
- List all of your medications, including vitamins and herbal supplements.
- Ask someone to accompany you, whether a friend or a family member, to help you recall information before and after the appointment.
If you have dysarthria, the following basic questions can be asked to your doctor:
- Do I need to see a specialist for my condition?
- Are my symptoms related to dysarthria?
- What tests should I undergo?
- Aside from dysarthria, are there other possible
- What are other possible explanations?
- Are there websites that you can recommend for more information about dysarthria?
You can also ask other questions about your condition. Don't be afraid to ask.
What to Expect from Your Doctor
Your primary healthcare provider may ask you some questions, which may include:
- When did your symptoms start to appear?
- How long have you had your symptoms?
- Are your symptoms occasional or continuous?
- Are your symptoms mild or severe?
- What tends to improve or worsen your symptoms?