Merck Manual

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Juebin Huang

, MD, PhD, Department of Neurology, University of Mississippi Medical Center

Last full review/revision Sep 2020| Content last modified Sep 2020

Dysarthria is loss of the ability to articulate words normally.

  • Speech may be jerky, staccato, breathy, irregular, imprecise, or monotonous, but people can understand language and use it correctly.

  • Practitioners evaluate muscle strength and movement by asking the person to do some simple tasks involving their mouth and tongue and to repeat words and sentences.

  • Speech therapy helps some people with dysarthria.

Although dysarthria seems to be a language problem, it is really a problem with controlling the muscles of speech (a motor problem).

Causes of Dysarthria

Dysarthria may be caused by damage to the following:

These structures can be damaged by degenerative disorders (such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Other Motor Neuron Diseases (MNDs) Motor neuron diseases are characterized by progressive deterioration of the nerve cells that initiate muscle movement. As a result, the muscles stimulated by these nerves deteriorate, become... read more , Parkinson disease Parkinson Disease (PD) Parkinson disease is a slowly progressive degenerative disorder of specific areas of the brain. It is characterized by tremor when muscles are at rest (resting tremor), increased muscle tone... read more , and Huntington disease Huntington Disease Huntington disease is a hereditary disease that begins with occasional involuntary jerking or spasms, then progresses to more pronounced involuntary movements (chorea and athetosis), mental... read more ), multiple sclerosis Introduction to Meningitis Meningitis is inflammation of the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord (meninges) and of the fluid-filled space between the meninges (subarachnoid space). Meningitis can be... read more , head injuries Overview of Head Injuries Head injuries that involve the brain are particularly concerning. Common causes of head injuries include falls, motor vehicle crashes, assaults, and mishaps during sports and recreational activities... read more , brain tumors Overview of Brain Tumors A brain tumor can be a noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) growth in the brain. It may originate in the brain or have spread (metastasized) to the brain from another part of the body... read more , strokes Overview of Stroke A stroke occurs when an artery to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, resulting in death of an area of brain tissue due to loss of its blood supply (cerebral infarction) and symptoms that... read more , or infections such as Lyme disease Lyme Disease Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted infection caused by Borrelia species, primarily by Borrelia burgdorferi and sometimes by Borrelia mayonii in the United States. These spiral-shaped bacteria... read more Lyme Disease .

Symptoms of Dysarthria

People who have dysarthria produce sounds that approximate what they mean and that are in the correct order. However, 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.

The disorder that causes dysarthria can also cause difficulty chewing and swallowing.

Diagnosis of Dysarthria

  • A doctor's evaluation

  • Standardized tests of brain function

  • Imaging tests

To diagnose dysarthria, a doctor asks the person about symptoms and does a physical examination. A speech therapist often helps in the evaluation. The practitioner may also do the following:

  • Ask the person to do some simple tasks, such as blowing out a candle, biting the lower lip, and sticking out the tongue: Observing the person doing these tasks helps the practitioner evaluate the strength and movement of the muscles involved in speech.

  • Ask the person to repeat words and sentences, sing, and count: Observing the person producing sounds helps the practitioner detect problems with speaking, such as breathiness and jerky speech.

Standardized tests of brain function (neuropsychologic testing Diagnosis Agnosia is loss of the ability to identify objects using one or more of the senses. Symptoms vary depending on where the brain is damaged. Doctors determine whether people have agnosia by asking... read more ) may be given by a neuropsychologist or speech therapist. These tests also help practitioners plan treatment and determine how likely recovery is.

Imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are done to help identify the cause.

Treatment of Dysarthria

  • Speech therapy

  • Sometimes use of a communication device

If dysarthria is severe, therapists may recommend using a letter or picture board or a computer-based device with a keyboard and message display.

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