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Dysarthria dis-ˈär-thrē-ə

by Juebin Huang, MD, PhD

Dysarthria is loss of the ability to articulate words normally.

Although dysarthria seems to be a language problem, it is really a muscular (motor) problem. It may be caused by damage to the brain stem or to the nerve fibers that connect the outer layer of the cerebrum (cerebral cortex) to the brain stem. The brain stem controls the muscles used in breathing (which help make sounds). The nerve fibers relay information needed to control and coordinate the muscles used to produce speech, including those of the lips, tongue, palate, and vocal cords.

People who have dysarthria produce sounds that approximate what they mean and that are in the correct order. Speech may be jerky, staccato, breathy, irregular, imprecise, or monotonous, depending on where the damage is. Because the ability to understand and use language is not usually affected, most people with dysarthria can read and write normally.

Speech therapy helps some people with dysarthria (see Dysarthria). Speech therapy may involve breathing and muscle exercises and repetition of words or sentences. If dysarthria is severe, therapists may recommend using a letter or picture board or a computer-based device with a keyboard and message display.