Speech and swallowing

Speech and swallowing

Problems with speech and swallowing aren’t necessarily the first symptoms you think of when it comes to multiple sclerosis (MS). But if you’re having trouble with either, you may find them affecting your confidence. Here, we explore the types of speech and swallowing problems you may experience and advice to help you manage them.

You should always tell your doctor if your quality of life is being negatively impacted by your symptoms.

Between 40—50% of people living with MS experience speech difficulties at some point. Speech difficulties may come and go throughout the day and can appear during a relapse. Speech changes are often mild and are unlikely to stop you from being understood.

Speech and swallowing

Problems with speech can include:

  • Slurred or slower speech
  • A weaker voice and lower volume
  • Long pauses between words
  • Finding it difficult to find the right words

You may be referred to a speech and language therapist who will try to work out exactly what your speech problem is. Muscle stiffness or spasms can cause speech problems and there may be treatments that can help you manage these symptoms. Your therapist may teach you a number of exercises, which could work on strengthening certain muscles or to improve the movement of your jaw, tongue or lips. They might also help you find easier ways of saying things, such as using shorter phrases.

Be sure to talk to your doctor if problems with your speech are having a negative impact on your quality of life.

Here are some tips that might help your speech:

  • Make use of technology in your day-to-day life – when you don’t feel able to speak try email or text
  • Don’t try to compete with other noises – if you need to say something turn the TV or the radio down
  • Make sure you have the full attention of the person you’re talking to
  • Don’t worry if you have to repeat things
  • Try to communicate face-to-face when you can, body language can be a big help
  • If you can’t think of a word, write a note of what you’re trying to say and come back to it later
  • Giving yourself more time can help you to find the right word and can make it easier for people to understand what you’re saying

Speech

You may experience trouble with swallowing, sometimes called dysphagia, while living with MS. Problems with swallowing are experienced by approximately one third of people living with MS and can include:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Food getting stuck in your throat
  • Food or drink coming back up
  • Feeling like your food is going down slowly
  • Coughing when or after you eat
  • Excess saliva

You may also be referred to a speech and language therapist if you have problems swallowing. As swallowing is quite a complicated process, they will try to work out which part isn’t working properly and will suggest some ways that might help. These could include:

  • Keeping a good posture while you eat and for 30 minutes after you’ve eaten
  • Eating in a relaxed atmosphere to help your muscles work better
  • Not rushing – eating slowly can help you to concentrate
  • Chewing well
  • Having a drink between mouthfuls
  • Avoiding speaking whilst eating
  • Sticking to foods that are the right texture for you

Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing, and any compromises you’re making as a result of them.

Interested in more? Discover more about monitoring physical MS symptoms and the importance of monitoring to ensure your MS management continues to limit the impact of MS on your quality of life.

  1. Speech. MS Society UK. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/signs-and-symptoms/speech. Last accessed: October 2017.
  2. Speech difficulties. MS Society UK. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/ms-resources/speech-difficulties-booklet. Last accessed: October 2017.
  3. Managing speech problems. MS Society UK. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/signs-and-symptoms/speech/managing-speech-problems. Last accessed: October 2017.
  4. Swallowing problems in MS. MS Society UK. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/signs-and-symptoms/swallowing/about-swallowing-problems. Last accessed: October 2017.
  5. Managing swallowing problems. MS Society UK. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/signs-and-symptoms/swallowing/managing-swallowing-problems. Last accessed: October 2017.

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