Symptom Series: Speech difficulties

Learn about speech difficulties and tips that may help manage them
Two women talking on the couch

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Some are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.

Through our MS Symptom Series, we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.

When you speak, many different muscles need to work together quickly. These include muscles in your face, lips, tongue, and throat. For people living with MS, lesions that appear on the brain and spinal cord may impact the muscles that help you speak, your vocal cords, and your diaphragm. This can lead to speech and voice difficulties.

Dysarthria is a type of speech disorder that can make it hard to talk and difficult for people to understand you. It is caused when the muscles you use to speak are weakened or damaged by lesions.

While symptoms are usually mild, dysarthria is considered the most common communications or speech disorder for people living with MS. For some people, it can affect their ability to control how loud or softly they are speaking. For others, it may result in slower speech. 

Common speech changes caused by dysarthria also include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Vocal tremors
  • Changes in the sound of your voice
  • Difficulty emphasizing certain words

These are not all of the changes you may experience. It’s important to talk with your healthcare team if you notice changes in your speech.

Here are a few tips that may be helpful if you are experiencing speech difficulties:

Plan important conversations when you are feeling less tired
Fatigue may affect your ability to communicate. Think about how you are feeling before you have an important conversation with friends or family. Consider planning these conversations ahead of time when you know you will feel well-rested and better prepared.

Use technology to stay in touch
If you are having trouble talking on the phone or in person, try sending a text or an email instead, or keep in contact using social media.

Work with a speech therapist
A speech therapist can address difficulties you may have with speech, communication, or swallowing. They may offer you exercises or tips to help manage or potentially improve your speech issues.

Track your symptoms or changes in speech
Keeping track of any changes you notice in your speech or voice may help you start conversations with your healthcare team about what you’re experiencing.

Talking is something most of us do every day. It plays an important part in how we communicate with others, which is why speech difficulties may be frustrating. If you are experiencing any changes, even if they’re mild, consider using the tips above. Remember, you should always talk to your healthcare team about what you’re experiencing. 

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