Causes and Symptoms of Dysarthria

July 29, 2019
Dysarthria can affect patients physically, mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally. Each person will experience it a little differently, which is why a unique treatment plan is important for each case.

Language is part of your everyday life. It allows you to communicate your needs to others. Can you imagine being unable to pronounce words? This is a reality for people who suffer from dysarthria. In this article, we’ll discuss the common symptoms of dysarthria, as well as its causes and treatments.

What’s Dysarthria?

This disorder is a neurological alternation that affects communication and swallowing. People with dysarthria can’t structure or pronounce words properly, and they also have problems swallowing food. The muscles that regulate these mechanisms are compromised due to lack of muscle tone and control and coordination problems. Here are the common symptoms of dysarthria:

  • Problems moving the lips, jaw, and tongue.
  • Difficulty controlling the tone of voice.
  • Breathing problems (taking halting breaths, for example). 
  • Problems pronouncing words.
  • Very loose or stiff muscles.
  • Excess production of saliva.
  • Convoluted speech.
  • Slow speech.
  • A tense, nasal, or breathy voice.
  • Problems with swallowing.
A woman covering her eyes with her hands.

The effect that these symptoms have on patients’ social lives can lead to psychological problems. People with dysarthria may also end up suffering from clinical depression.

There are different kinds of dysarthria:

  • Flaccid dysarthria. Characterized by problems with tone and phonatory muscle movement.
  • Cerebellar dysarthria. On the spectrum of ataxic disorders. This type of dysarthria is caused by brain injuries. Patients’ movement coordination is interrupted. They have rhythm pattern problems and voluntary speech motility problems.
  • Mixed. This is the most complex form of dysarthria. The speech dysfunction is the result of different characteristics in the involved motor systems.
  • Extrapyramidal dysarthria.

There’s also spastic dysarthria, which involves the upper motor neurons.  It causes weakness and muscle spasms on one side of the body.

Causes of Dysarthria

People with dysarthria have some kind of brain injury, which is what makes it hard for them to articulate sounds and words. Some causes of dysarthria are:

  • Medications such as sedatives or narcotics.
  • Accidents. Head trauma can cause dysarthria.
  • Brain tumors.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS (multiple sclerosis), and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) are some examples.
  • Encephalitis. Infections can cause encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.

Central nervous system infections, manganese poisoning, atherosclerosis, and idiopathetic degeneration (i.e. an unknown cause) an also lead to dysarthria.

Treatment for Symptoms of Dysarthria

The treatment for dysarthria depends on the patient’s symptoms. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Swallowing therapy. This treatment involves lip, tongue, and throat stimulation to increase motility and improve the problem. Therapists use techniques that have an impact on tongue movement and facial mimicry.
  • Oral rehabilitation. This depends on each patient, their surroundings, the kind of therapeutic intervention, and the therapist. It’s basically a set of techniques designed to improve speech articulation. Therapists use different exercises that involve the patient’s active participation. They also stimulate the joints to improve motility and coordination.
  • Posture work. The patient learns how to stand and move properly so that they can emit sounds correctly. A good posture helps articulation, breathing, and swallowing.
  • Food adaption. This involves introducing food with different consistencies in order to decrease the risk of choking. Although scientists suggest that any and all foods can cause problems, the most important thing is to observe the patient and adapt the therapy to their needs.
  • Articulation intervention. This is a set of techniques to strengthen and improve coordination of the jaw, tongue, and lips. Patients work on extension, projection, lateralization, and rotation movements, among others.
A speech therapist working with a little girl.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Treating dysarthria requires an interdisciplinary approach. Patients need help from doctors, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists.

Of all of them, the speech therapist’s work is perhaps the most important. In a study titled “The role of the speech and language therapist in the management of dysarthria and dysphagia in Parkinson’s diseaseresearchers discovered that the intervention of speech therapists improved speech intelligibility in Parkinson’s patients. They also discovered that speech therapy helped strengthen the organs and muscles involved in swallowing.

In conclusion, this condition affects patients’ quality of life. Consequently, it’s extremely important to be aware of the patient’s symptoms and have a proper treatment plan in place that’s guided by a specialist.

  • Benaiges, I.C. & Farret, C. A. (2007). Papel de la logopedia en el tratamientoo de la disartria y la disfagia en la enfermedad de Parkinson.  Neurol Supl, 3 (7), 30-33.
  • González, R.A. & Bevilacqua, J.A. (2012). Las disartrias. Revista del hospital clínico universitario de Chile.
  • Lami Alvarez, L. Disartria. Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras. Recuperado de: http://www.sld.cu/galerias/pdf/sitios/rehabilitacion-logo/disartria.pdf