Slurred Speech

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What is slurred speech?

Slurred speech is a symptom characterized by poor pronunciation of words, mumbling, or a change in speed or rhythm during talking. The medical term for slurred speech is dysarthria.

Slurred speech may develop slowly over time or follow a single incident. Slurred speech may be temporary or permanent, depending on the underlying cause.

Proper speech requires normal function of the brain, mouth, tongue, and vocal cords (larynx). Damage or disease affecting any of these organs may cause slurred speech. Common causes of slurred speech include alcohol or drug intoxication, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and neuromuscular disorders. Neuromuscular disorders that often cause slurred speech include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability), cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson’s disease. the onset of symptoms

Slurred speech may be a symptom of serious or life-threatening condition, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have slurred speech and other serious symptoms, such as numbness or weakness on one side of your body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of stroke.

Seek prompt medical care if your slurred speech is persistent or causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with slurred speech?

Slurred speech may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect your ability to speak may also involve other body systems.

Neurological symptoms that may occur along with slurred speech

Slurred speech may accompany other symptoms affecting the brain and nerves including:

Muscular symptoms that may occur along with slurred speech

Slurred speech may accompany other symptoms affecting the muscles including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, slurred speech may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions

  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading

  • Drowsiness

  • Loss of muscle coordination

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Seizures

  • Severe headache

  • Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain

  • Vomiting

What causes slurred speech?

There are many causes of slurred speech. Disease or injury to the brain or nerves and muscles of the face, tongue, and vocal cords may cause slurred speech.

Neuromuscular causes of slurred speech

Slurred speech can be caused by disease or damage affecting the muscle and nerves of the vocal cords, mouth, or tongue. These neuromuscular causes include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability)

  • Bell’s palsy (swollen or inflamed nerve that controls facial muscles)

  • Cerebral palsy (birth defect that causes brain damage that may result in problems with speech or muscular coordination)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Muscular dystrophy (inherited disorder that causes a progressive loss of muscle tissue and muscle weakness)

  • Myasthenia gravis (autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness)

  • Parkinson’s disease (brain disorder that impairs movement and coordination)

  • Surgery on the face, head or neck

Other causes of slurred speech

Slurred speech may also be caused by:

  • Alcohol or drug intoxication
  • Dementia
  • Ill-fitting dentures
  • Medication side effects
  • Migraine

Serious or life-threatening causes of slurred speech

In some cases, slurred speech may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Brain tumor

  • Stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

  • Trauma to the face, head or neck

  • Traumatic brain injury

Questions for diagnosing the cause of slurred speech

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your slurred speech including:

  • How long have you had slurred speech?

  • Did your slurred speech develop slowly over time or after a single incident?

  • Have you experienced any recent injuries or trauma?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of slurred speech?

Because slurred speech can be caused by serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage

  • Disability

  • Impaired balance and coordination

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Neurological problems, such as memory loss, confusion, and encephalitis

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent hearing loss

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Seizures and tremors

  • Unconsciousness and coma
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Dysarthria. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004947/.
  2. Dysarthria. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/dysarthria.htm.