What causes difficulty speaking and swallowing and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Difficulty speaking and swallowing can be frustrating and concerning. These speech and swallowing problems, also known as speech and swallowing disorders, can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. In this article, we will explore the causes of difficulty speaking and swallowing, the different types of speech and swallowing disorders, and what steps you can take if you are experiencing trouble speaking or swallowing.

Understanding Speech Difficulties

Speech difficulties, also referred to as speech impediments, can manifest in various ways. One common speech disorder is dysarthria, which is characterized by weak, slurred, or slow speech. Dysarthria can be caused by conditions such as stroke, brain injury, or neurological disorders.

Another speech difficulty is stuttering, where a person experiences disruptions in their speech flow, often repeating sounds or syllables. Stuttering can be influenced by factors such as genetics, developmental issues, or psychological factors.

There are also speech difficulties that arise from structural abnormalities, such as cleft palate or vocal cord paralysis. These physical conditions can affect the production of speech sounds and require specialized treatment.

Exploring Swallowing Difficulties

Swallowing difficulties, known as dysphagia, can occur at different stages of the swallowing process. This can include problems with chewing, moving food from the mouth to the throat, or passing food through the esophagus into the stomach.

Dysphagia can be caused by various factors, including neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, muscular disorders, or structural abnormalities in the throat or esophagus. It can also be a side effect of certain medications or a result of radiation therapy.

Swallowing difficulties can lead to complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, or aspiration pneumonia, where food or liquid enters the lungs instead of the stomach. Therefore, it is crucial to address swallowing problems promptly.

What Should I Do If I Have Difficulty Speaking or Swallowing?

1. Consult a Healthcare Professional

If you are experiencing difficulty speaking or swallowing, it is essential to seek medical advice. A healthcare professional, such as a speech-language pathologist or an otolaryngologist, can evaluate your symptoms, identify the underlying cause, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

2. Speech Therapy

For speech difficulties, speech therapy can be highly beneficial. A speech-language pathologist can work with you to improve speech clarity, strengthen muscles involved in speech production, and develop strategies to enhance communication. They may also provide exercises to improve breath control and articulation.

3. Swallowing Therapy

If you are experiencing swallowing difficulties, a speech-language pathologist with expertise in dysphagia can help. They can assess your swallowing function, recommend modifications to your diet or eating techniques, and provide exercises to improve swallowing coordination and strength.

4. Medications or Surgical Interventions

In some cases, medications or surgical interventions may be necessary to address the underlying cause of speech or swallowing difficulties. For example, medications can help manage symptoms of certain neurological conditions, while surgical procedures may be required to correct structural abnormalities.

5. Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can also be beneficial for individuals with speech or swallowing difficulties. These can include communication aids, such as speech-generating devices or augmentative and alternative communication systems. For swallowing difficulties, modified utensils or adaptive drinking cups can help facilitate safe and efficient swallowing.


Difficulty speaking and swallowing can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life. However, with the right interventions and support, many speech and swallowing disorders can be managed effectively. It is crucial to consult a healthcare professional if you are experiencing any difficulties in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Speech therapy, swallowing therapy, medications, surgical interventions, and assistive devices are all potential options to address these challenges. Remember, early intervention is key to improving speech and swallowing function and enhancing overall quality of life.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
Add a comment