Read below about slurred speech, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your slurred speech from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Slurred Speech Symptoms

If a person begins to have trouble speaking – if the words are slow or garbled and run together so that they are difficult to understand – this is slurred speech. There are plenty of jokes about it and it's seen as an almost universal sign of drunkenness, which can be one cause.

Most often, though, this sort of speech difficulty has a neurologic or other physical cause. Unless clearly caused by temporary exhaustion or alcohol intoxication, it should be seen immediately by a medical provider. Slurred speech is also called dysarthria.

Characteristics:

  • Speech may be:

    • Slow, garbled, and difficult to understand.
    • Too fast and therefore unclear.
    • Inappropriately loud, or too soft to hear.
    • Alternating between being too fast and too slow, or too soft and too loud.
  • There may be loss of control of the muscles of the lips, tongue, and face, and it may happen on only one side of the face.

Duration of symptoms:

  • Some types of dysarthria are temporary and will fade, especially with speech therapy.
  • Other types cannot be cured but can be managed with appropriate treatment and speech therapy.

Is slurred speech serious?

  • Speech may become mildly slurred due to exhaustion, hypothermia, or alcohol intoxication, but will clear up when the underlying cause clears up.
  • The psychological aspects of slurred or difficult speech can cause depression, social isolation, and difficulty working or going to school.
  • If the slurred speech is caused by a sudden loss of control on one side of the body, or by sudden swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat, these are life-threatening emergencies and must be treated immediately.

Slurred Speech Causes Overview

Circulatory problems:

The brain requires a normal blood supply in order to function. Anything that interferes with this blood supply impact the brain and disrupt actions such as speech.

  • Blockage, leaking, or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

    • It may be minor and seem to resolve on its own within twenty-four hours but is actually a very serious warning signal.
    • It may be very debilitating and require immediate medical attention.
  • Conditions which damage the blood vessels over time:

    • High blood pressure.
    • Chronic high blood sugar.
  • Heart attack.

    • This severely disrupts normal circulation of blood.
    • It also causes pain, exhaustion, and shortness of breath, all of which interfere with normal speech.
  • Physical damage to the brain, which disrupts its structure and workings:

    • Traumatic brain injury.
    • Brain tumor, which crowds and displaces normal brain tissue.
  • Hypothermia or a severe drop in body temperature (e.g. below 95 degrees F / 35 degrees) slows the circulation and the brain's functioning.
  • Severe exhaustion, which slows the thinking as the brain prepares for sleep.

Neurologic illnesses:

These cause gradual and progressive loss of coordination between nerves and muscles, making speech increasingly difficult.

Dysarthria:

This means that the muscles used for speech are weak or uncontrollable.

  • Conditions causing facial paralysis.
  • Overall weakness of the tongue and/or throat muscles.

Abnormal growths or injury to voice apparatus:

  • Abnormal growths on, or damage to, the vocal cords or throat can leave the voice sounding very different and sometimes hard to understand.
  • Damaged teeth
  • Swollen tongue or throat, due to injury or allergy.

Medications, alcohol, supplements, and drugs:

Medications, supplements, alcohol intoxication and recreational drugs can slow the thought processes and interfere with the motor control needed for clear speech.

Mental health conditions:

  • Severe depression can make it hard to find the energy to speak, especially if the person is also medicated.
  • Severe anxiety and panic can make it very difficult to speak.

Rare and unusual causes:

  • An excess buildup of copper in the tissues.
  • Progressive weakness of the muscles and loss of muscle mass.
  • Damage to the brain caused by malformation, or by oxygen deprivation at birth.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Slurred Speech

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced slurred speech. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  2. 2.Brain Tumor or Mass

    A brain lesion can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Nonetheless, they are a potentially serious issue and should be discussed with a physician.

    Uncertain. Prognosis is very dependent on what is found

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with brain tumor or mass:
    focal neurological symptoms
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  3. 3.Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Als)

    Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This progressive, neurodegenerative disease affects nerve cells.

    Lifelong

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, difficulty concentrating, difficulty walking, hoarse voice
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

    Inflammation of the nervous system, typically due to your body's own immune system, can strip the protective layering of the nervous system's biggest nerves, causing neurologic changes.

    Dependent on the final diagnosis

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, new headache, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  5. 5.Low Blood Sodium

    Hyponatremia is a deficiency in sodium. Sodium is one of the most important nutrients in the body, needed for nerves to conduct signals, muscles to contract, and blood pressure to be maintained at safe levels, etc. A deficiency in sodium can cause severe, widespread symptoms.

    1-30 days

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, dizziness
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  6. 6.Brain Abscess

    A brain abscess is a collection of pus, immune cells, and other material in the brain, usually from a bacterial or fungal infection. Infected brain cells collect in an area of the brain, creating pressure on the delicate organ. This is a medical emergency.

    Treatment is crucial, and the course is variable. A consultation with a brain specialist (neurologist or neurosurgeon) is required.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, being severely ill, nausea or vomiting, new headache, fever
    Symptoms that always occur with brain abscess:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  7. 7.Tertiary Phase of Syphilis Infection

    Syphilis is a common sexually trasmitted infection (STI). Late phase, or tertiary, syphilis is uncommon, as it occurs years to decades after initial exposure to the infection. It is the most progressed and serious stage of the disease. Late phase syphilis infection can lead to loss of function of multiple organ systems, especially the nervous system, the heart and blood vessels, and the liver.

    Prognosis is variable and highly dependent on the individual. Late phase syphilis, unfortunately, often leads to the poorest outcomes due to damage of multiple organs.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    joint pain, fatigue, irritability, numbness or tingling sensations in skin, dizziness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Slurred Speech Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate slurred speech treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if the person is also experiencing:

  • Severe headache along with weakness and loss of use of part or all of one side of the body. These symptoms may indicate a stroke in progress.
  • Sudden swelling of the face, tongue, and throat along with difficulty breathing, since these may be caused by a life-threatening allergy.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Discussion of all medications and supplements you are taking, to see if substitutions or adjustments can be made that might help.
  • Discussion of speech therapy and possible referral to a specialist.
  • Discussion of psychological issues such as depression and social isolation, with possible referral to a mental health professional for help in coping with everyday life.

FAQs About Slurred Speech

Here are some frequently asked questions about slurred speech.

Why do people slur their words when they drink?

Alcohol is a toxin that affects nearly every portion of the brain. It also affects the portion of the brain that allows coordination of facial and speech muscles, making it more difficult to speak and to enunciate speech. Alcohol starts by affecting the higher functioning centers, including the forebrain or frontal cortex of the brain, by altering the way messages are transmitted between nerves in the brain. Acute intoxication is commonly associated with slurred speech.

Can lack of sleep cause slurred speech?

Yes. Lack of sleep does commonly cause slurred speech. Lack of sleep hinders the brain from being able to repair itself and restore neurotransmitters that are exhausted during the day. This decreases the brain's ability to perform complex tasks, including speech. It also greatly decreases the ability to pay attention to tasks at hand, causing an inability to coordinate vocalizations mid-sentence.

Why do I have balance problems and slurred speech?

Most notably, balance problems and slurred speech can be signs of a stroke. If you have no discernible cause for these symptoms and experience a sudden onset of them, you should seek medical care immediately. Balance problems and speech problems denote an issue in the brain affecting many different portions of the brain.

What does slurred speech sound like?

Slurred speech, or dysarthria, usually involves an inability to make a particular motion with the mouth and tongue. This causes words that necessitate that movement to sound incomplete or slurred. These are called articulation errors. Slurred speech may sound different depending on the language or the individual affected.

Is slurred speech permanent?

This depends on the cause of slurred speech. Slurred speech from alcohol usually dissipates as the body metabolizes the toxins from the blood as they drain from the brain. Slurred speech from a permanent brain injury such as dementia, strokes, or lesions of the cranial nerves that allow movement of the oropharyngeal muscles cause more permanent slurring.

Slurred Speech Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced slurred speech have also experienced:

    • 7% Headache
    • 6% Dizziness
    • 5% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced slurred speech had symptoms persist for:

    • 38% Over a Month
    • 27% Less Than a Day
    • 21% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced slurred speech were most often matched with:

    • 43% Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)
    • 31% Brain Tumor or Mass
    • 25% Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Als)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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