Speech Impairment: Symptoms, Causes, and When to See Your Doctor

Speech impairment in adults is a symptom that causes difficulty in speaking or pronouncing words. This can be a temporary condition, or it can be a symptom of a severe medical condition. This guide will show you what to look for and when to see a doctor.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 17, 2020

Speech Impairment: Symptoms, Causes, and When to See Your Doctor

Speech impairment in adults is any symptom that causes difficulty in speaking or pronouncing words. Speech impairments can include slurred, rapid, stuttered, hoarse, or slowed speech, and they can be caused by any number of factors. 

Some cases of impaired speech may be temporary, while others are caused by an underlying medical condition. When speech impairment is sudden, then it is a symptom of a serious problem, such as a heart attack or stroke, and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of Speech impairment

Along with an inability to clearly communicate verbally, you can also experience other symptoms with speech impairment. 

♦ Weakened facial muscles
♦ Difficulty remembering words
♦ Deficits with expressive language
♦ Drooling
♦ Sudden contraction of vocal muscles

Causes of Speech Impairment

The different types of speech impairment have different causes, and you can develop speech impairment suddenly or gradually. 

♦ Aphasia: This is when you have difficulty thinking of words or pronouncing them, and the potential causes of this type include head trauma, brain tumors, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

♦ Dysarthria: This is when you have trouble moving your lips, tongue, vocal folds, or diaphragm. This typically results from degenerative muscle conditions such as multiple sclerosis as well as stroke, head trauma, Bell’s palsy, Lyme disease, and excessive alcohol consumption.

♦ Vocal disorders: This affects your ability to speak and is caused by injuries to the area, throat cancer, polyps or nodules on the vocal cords, and consumption of drugs like antidepressants. 

♦ Spasmodic dysphonia: This involves involuntary movements of the vocal cords. The exact cause is unknown, but this impairment is linked to abnormal brain functioning. 

Diseases Associated with Speech Impairment

There can be temporary causes of speech impairment, but in most cases, there is an underlying condition impacting the speech region of the brain. Sudden speech impairment can be a sign of a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

♦ Stroke: Speech impairment and disorders are common after a stroke, but they can also be signs of an impending stroke. Slurred speech, along with facial muscle changes, can indicate a stroke and should not be ignored.

Cardiovascular disease: Heart disease can cause structural changes in the brain as a result of reduced blood flow. Cognitive abilities and communication can be impacted as a result.

Multiple sclerosis: This condition causes lesions that damaged parts of the brain, which can impair speech patterns.

Infections: Viral and bacterial infections that reach the brain can cause damage to the areas that process language, causing temporary speech impairment. 

Huntington’s Disease: This disease mostly affects movement, but the majority of patients with Huntington’s also report speech difficulties.

Alzheimer’s disease: Speech impairment can develop as a result of plaques in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Parkinson’s: Difficulty speaking and swallowing is common with Parkinson’s disease and gets worse as the disease progresses. 

Cholesterol: High cholesterol can lead to the formation of plaques in the arteries, and without treatment, these increase your risk for stroke, which can cause speech impairment.

Cancer: A tumor in your brain located near the speech center will cause speech impairments as well as changes in memory, seizures, and severe headaches.

Head trauma: Injury, internal bleeding, or bruising to the brain, as a result of head trauma can impact speech. Depending on the severity and location of the trauma, speech impairment may be temporary or permanent.

Diagnosis of Speech Impairment

When speech impairment appears suddenly, seek immediate medical attention. When it develops more gradually, you need to see your doctor for testing, in case there is an underlying condition as the cause. 

You may experience speech impairment after using your voice too much or after an infection, but prolonged impairment requires attention and testing for diagnosis. Your doctor will start with a physical examination and discuss your medical history and symptoms. They will also talk with you to evaluate your speech during a discussion and to determine your level of comprehension and speaking ability. 

In addition to this, testing can be done to attempt to identify possible underlying causes. The most common tests include:

♦ Blood tests
♦ Electrical current tests
♦ MRI, CT, and x-Ray scans
♦ Urine tests

It may also be necessary for you to follow up with specialists such as a neurologist, speech pathologist, or otolaryngologist for more detailed testing and analysis.

Treatment for Speech impairment

The treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your speech impairment. In all cases of speech impairment, the underlying cause needs to be treated in order to restore speech. 

Exercises can be done to help strengthen vocal cords and improve articulation. You can also use assistive communication devices. Only in certain situations will surgery or any other invasive procedure be required. If the cause of your speech impairment is a stroke or heart disease, medications are prescribed as well as surgery. Your doctor will also recommend a heart-healthy lifestyle to follow.

In addition to any medical treatment plan given to you by your doctor, there are things you can try to help protect your voice, and prevent or limit the severity of a speech impairment. 

♦ Always wear protective headgear to prevent brain injuries.
Quit or avoid smoking and second-hand smoke to reduce the risk of throat cancer.
♦ Limit consumption of alcohol.
♦ Get regular exercise to reduce the risk of stroke.
♦ Follow a balanced diet to protect against hypertension and high cholesterol.

Natural Treatment for Speech Impairment

Most of the causes of speech impairment will require medical treatment. However, there are certain conditions related to heart health that you can prevent naturally. Stroke and atherosclerosis are both related to high cholesterol and clogged arteries. 

By incorporating specific natural ingredients into your diet, you can promote overall heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. This will reduce your risk of heart-related conditions that can cause speech impairment. The top ingredients to try include:

♦ Berberine bark extract both lowers cholesterol and fights inflammation to protect against heart disease. 
♦ Chromium benefits the heart by reducing the risk of high cholesterol and arterial clogs. This significantly reduces the risk of stroke.
♦ Lion’s mane mushroom improves the good-to-bad ratio of cholesterol in your blood to protect against stroke.
Niacin works to lower cholesterol and blood lipid levels to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Studies have found that it works more effectively than cholesterol-lowering statins. 
Pine bark extract helps lower bad cholesterol, which prevents clogged arteries and reduces the risk of stroke. This extract also reduces inflammation that can cause platelets to clump together, forming dangerous clots known to increase stroke risk.

When to See Your Doctor

The gradual development of speech impairment can be caused by a number of conditions or factors that can be effectively treated once identified. 

If you notice the sudden onset of any speech impairment, you need to seek immediate medical attention, as this is a common sign of a stroke. Without treatment, a stroke can cause permanent damage to your heart and brain and even death. 

While speech impairment may develop from a relatively harmless condition, the risk of stroke cannot be ignored, so be sure to seek help if impairment appears suddenly.

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