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Speech and Swallowing Disorders

From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.

Speech disorders are fairly common in MS. Speech patterns are controlled by many areas in the brain, especially the brainstem. Lesions-damaged areas-in different parts of the brain can cause several types of changes in normal speech patterns. They range from mild difficulties to severe problems that make it difficult to speak and be understood. Medically, speech disorders are called dysarthrias.

Long Pauses
One pattern that is commonly associated with MS is so-called "scanning'" speech. Scanning dysarthria produces speech in which the normal "melody" or speech pattern is disrupted, with abnormally long pauses between words or individual syllables of words.

Slurred or Nasal Sounding Speech
People with MS may also slur words. This is usually the result of weakness and/or incoordination of the muscles of the tongue, lips, cheeks, and mouth. Other speech problems include nasal speech, which sounds as though the person has a cold or nasal obstruction.

Dysarthrias are commonly associated with other symptoms caused by lesions in the brainstem. These include tremor, head shaking, or incoordination.

Therapists can Evaluate and Help Improve Speech
Many people can be aided by a speech/language pathologist, who can evaluate and help to improve speech patterns, enunciation, and oral communication in general.

If a person with MS becomes unable to speak, there are many assistive devices available. These range from alphabet cards to hand-held communicators that print out a tape, to computers that respond to eyeblinks.

Speech/Language Pathologists Treat Swallowing Problems
Many persons with dysarthria also have dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing). Speech therapists are trained to evaluate, diagnose and relieve these problems. Changing the types of food and their consistencies can be helpful for some. People who can no longer swallow without choking can receive adequate nutrition and fluids through feeding tubes placed directly into the stomach.

See also...



Society Web Resources


Coyle P., Halper J. Meeting the Challenge of Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (3rd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2001.
—Ch. 4 Managing the Symptoms of Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

Kalb R. (ed.) Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have; The Answers You Need (3rd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
—Ch. 7 Speech and Voice Disorders
—Ch. 8 Swallowing

Schapiro R. Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (5th ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
—Ch. 12 Speech




Last updated March 2006