March is MS Awareness Month

Speech Therapy Can Help Patients with MS:

Speech and swallowing problems are among the most frustrating of MS symptoms, but speech therapy can help patients speak and swallow better. For the millions of people throughout the world with multiple sclerosis, symptoms can be debilitating, especially when it comes to speech difficulties and swallowing problems.


Speech and voice disorders affect 25 percent to 40 percent of people with multiple sclerosis, and are often accompanied by difficulty swallowing, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Complications include slurred speech, unclear articulation of words, difficulty controlling loudness, and changes in vocal quality such as hoarseness, breathiness, and nasality. These disorders are caused by damaged nerves in areas that control these functions. Speech and voice problems are most likely to occur during MS relapses or periods of extreme fatigue. Speech therapy may be part of a multiple sclerosis treatment plan if weak facial muscles or lesions (damaged areas in the brain) have affected your ability to talk or swallow. Multiple sclerosis treatment involving speech therapy is tailored to the specific MS symptoms of each patient.


Speech therapy for people with MS may involve exercises to help strengthen the muscles in the tongue, cheeks, mouth, and lips. Other speech therapy techniques can teach patients how to slow down and articulate more carefully when speaking, sometimes by exaggerating articulation. Breathing control is an important part of speech therapy for multiple sclerosis treatment. Given that many of the muscles used in speech are also used in swallowing, it’s not surprising that MS patients with speech impediments may also have difficulties in that area. Swallowing problems, referred to as dysphagia, result from damage to the nerves that control the muscles in the mouth and throat. Symptoms of dysphagia include coughing or choking when eating and feeling like food is stuck in the throat.


If problems with swallowing aren’t corrected, malnutrition or dehydration can result. Lung infections are another possible consequence because food and liquids may be inhaled into the windpipe instead of passing through the esophagus and into the stomach. Once in the lungs, the food can lead to aspiration pneumonia.


Speech-language pathologists use various techniques to help MS patients, including:

  • Oral motor exercises
  • Voice training
  • Special communication devices
  • Dietary modifications
  • Altered positions while eating


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