Experience with Speech Problems and Multiple Sclerosis

Learn about the frustrations and tips of other people with MS.

Many people with multiple sclerosis experience issues with their speech as a symptom of MS. These problems can manifest as:

  • slurring
  • problems controlling volume of speech
  • erratic cadence of speech
  • sounding hoarse or raspy

(For more information, read Speech Difficulties as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis.)

Very few people become unable to communicate verbally. In fact, most of these MS-related speech symptoms are barely noticeable to other people, but if you have speech-related symptoms, you may be very aware of them.

NOTE: For this article, I am excluding word-finding difficulties, which most people classify as a type of MS-related cognitive dysfunction, although others may group it into the category of speech problems.

I asked people to share their experiences with MS-related speech problems, as well as any coping tips they may have. This is what they had to say:

  • I was diagnosed 2 years ago with MS. Two years before that, my voice started acting funny – sounding froggy and squeaky. People were telling me that I had a loud voice, which I didn’t even recognize. I’m not a smoker – I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my voice. Two years later, when I was diagnosed, I figured it out.
  • The biggest problem with my speech is the inability to regulate the rate of my speech. My words often come out so fast that i often spend a large part of my conversations repeating what I’ve already said. Very frustrating!
  • I have also had speech problems. It was the first MS symptom I had probably 15 years before I was diagnosed. My doctor attributed it to stress at the time and it got better, so I believed that to be the case. Now I talk too loud most of the time and I will say words out of order realizing it didn’t come out right after I say it.
  • I’ve been accused of being drunk with the word slurring, stuttering and not being to find the right words. It’s frustrating, having to explain that I have MS and it’s just another one of the symptoms, like staggering. This all happens mostly when I’m tired or it’s hot & humid.
  • I have often been asked why I’m shouting, when I didn’t think I was. Had never thought it could be an MS symptom…we learn something new every day!
  • What I experience, especially when I’m tired, is that my speech slows down (to a crawl).
  • I have volume issues with my speech, I speak softly and don’t realize it. When I get overly tired my speech slurs. My voice sometimes gets very raspy and doesn’t sound like me. I brought these issues to my neurologist, however he denies they are related to MS.
  • I start to speak and my face twitches. I end up making a noise that’s not a word and I’m embarrassed. It used to be occasional but has become practically daily.
  • I’m a lector at our church, and even though what I have to read is right in front of me, I can’t get it out the way I should sometimes. I stop where there’s no punctuation, or I’m too loud or too soft. I’m thinking of taking myself off the list of lectors because it’s too stressful. My husband tells me I yell into the phone, too.
  • My speech is affected by physical fatigue, oral muscle fatigue from chewing or talking, heat, infections etc. Some tips that I have learned: pause to interrupt the stuttering and slurring; mentally think about the word that you are trying to say; rest your oral muscles; remember if you are fatigued that speech issues more likely to happen; and know your triggers and try to avoid them to keep things working to your best advantage.
  • Speech problems were one of my first symptoms, though it used to be intermittent and has now become a permanent issue. My speech is very slurred and weak and it is difficult for people to understand me, particularly on the phone, which can be very frustrating. I find that people who do not know me think I have a learning disability and tend to talk to me like I am a child, which can be hard. Otherwise, they probably assume that I am drunk, especially as I have problems walking, as well.
  • I find that speaking slowly and deliberately helps, as well as trying to rest for awhile before continuing, as my speech tends to get worse the longer I am talking. I also have problems with chewing and swallowing but the speech and language therapist I see is very good and I can eat most things if I am careful. Often it is a case that things that you would have done automatically without thinking about them you have to really think about when you have MS.

Bottom Line: Communication is one of the most important aspects of being a human. MS symptoms that reduce our ability to interact with other people are particularly frustrating. As annoying as these symptoms may be, remind yourself that it is very rare to lose the ability to communicate. Work on speaking slowly and clearly. Most importantly, be easy on yourself and proud that you keep trying to have your voice heard. 

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