When someone has slurred speech (or ‘dysarthria’) this can be frustrating but it can also be alarming. Speech is the main way we communicate and so of course the main way we pick up information regarding a person. If they can’t formulate their words properly then this can make it difficult for us to understand what is going on inside their head and to question their mental health. Often slurred speech is a problem that is in fact related to brain damage and mental health problems, but there are also many more less serious potential causes.
Here we will look at a range of possible causes for slurred speech, how to diagnose it and how to treat it.
A stroke can cause slurred speech if it affects the motor control around parts of the face, mouth or tongue. Often this will be in conjunction with visible facial paralysis, perhaps on just one half of the face. This is commonly a side effect of stroke and in some cases the patient can recover.
A range of other forms of brain injury can also cause slurred speech. For instance if you should have a physical blow to the head, if you should develop a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease or Korsakoff’s syndrome or if you should develop a brain tumor. Other symptoms can be highly varied, but might include personality changes, memory difficulties and other motor difficulties (shaking, balance problems etc). Some developmental brain disorders can also result in damaged speech.
Problems With the Mouth or Tongue
Pain in the mouth can of course lead to slurred speech, as can problems with the tongue. This could be the result of a damaged tooth, or a burned tongue, or of swelling. If it’s the latter this can be potentially dangerous if it leads to choking (a common cause is food allergy) and it’s important to seek medical attention quickly. Of course any kind of injury may also result in slurred speech.
A range of muscle conditions may result in slurred speech. These include things like muscular dystrophy which is an inherited disorder causing the progressive loss of muscle, and myasthenia gravis which is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder.
This is a birth defect that can cause problems with muscular coordination and with speech as a result.
If you have ever been in a highly stressful situation then you might have noticed it becoming increasingly difficult to get your words out (which doesn’t help). This is a result of stress hormones and can be particularly bad in cases of anxiety disorder.
Intoxication with drugs and alcohol has short term brain affects that can lead to slurred speech as well as generally poor motor control that makes it difficult for a person to enunciate and to get their point across clearly. Likewise, slurred speech may be a side effect of some medications if they cause muscle relaxation or slowed thinking. Extreme tiredness may also have a similar effect.
Heart attacks can sometimes induce slurred speech, alongside crushing chest pain, tiredness, shortness of breath, dizziness and confusion.