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Managing Scanning Speech in MS

Managing MS

March 27, 2023

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Photography by Studio Firma/Stocksy United

Photography by Studio Firma/Stocksy United

by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Heidi Moawad, M.D.


Some people with MS may have unusually long pauses between words or produce sentences with an unusual rhythm. This can make communication challenging, but help is available.

People who live with multiple sclerosis (MS) can sometimes experience trouble producing speech.

The most common type of speech problem in MS is known as dysarthria. This occurs when a person has weakness or poor coordination of the muscles used to produce speech, just as they may have MS-related weakness in other parts of their body.

In the case of dysarthria, the movement difficulty affects the muscles of the lips, jaw, tongue, and throat, as well as the vocal cords and muscles used for respiration.

Often, this results in:

  • slurred speech
  • difficulty regulating volume, pitch, or pacing
  • a more nasal-sounding voice

Dysarthria can make communication frustrating and lead to awkward situations in social and work settings. Scanning speech is one type of dysarthria.

Treatments such as speech therapy may help you regain or maintain your normal speech patterns.

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What is scanning speech?

People with scanning speech have trouble producing words in a natural rhythm. The hallmark of scanning speech is having long pauses between syllables and words, and an almost even, robotic-sounding emphasis on each syllable or word.

While dysarthria affects about 41% to 51% of people with MS, most people find that it presents only a mild to moderate challenge.

In addition, scanning speech is relatively uncommon. In a 2018 study, it accounted for only about 3% of MS-related dysarthria.

That may be why many people don’t know about speech-related challenges when they’re first diagnosed with MS.

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What causes scanning speech?

Dysarthria occurs when lesions form in areas of the brain that relay messages to the nerves and muscles needed for making words.

Scanning speech, one type of dysarthria, more specifically known as ataxic dysarthria, occurs when lesions form in the cerebellum — the part of the brain responsible for movement and coordination. This is why speech may be affected and sound choppy or robotic.

Lesions in the cerebellum can also lead to a speech pattern that sometimes sounds like sudden bursts of words separated by pauses. This is why it is also sometimes called either staccato speech or explosive speech.

Other characteristics of ataxic dysarthria can (but don’t always) include occasional slurring of sounds, vocal tremor, and trouble regulating loudness.

While MS is one of the most common causes of ataxic dysarthria, other conditions affecting the cerebellum can also cause it. These include strokes, tumors, and brain injuries.

Because the cerebellum is responsible for movement and coordination, people with scanning speech may also exhibit other symptoms, such as:

  • tremor
  • poor coordination
  • head shaking
  • irregular eye movements
  • other uncontrolled movements

Diagnosing scanning speech

If you notice yourself having difficulty producing speech in a natural rhythm, consider making an appointment with your physician or a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

An SLP, sometimes known as a speech therapist, can evaluate your oral and respiratory muscle strength and coordination, and assess your speech production under different circumstances.

The SLP can determine whether your speech challenges are related to scanning speech, another type of dysarthria, or something else altogether.

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Treatment options

After evaluating your speech production, an SLP can develop personalized exercises to help strengthen the muscles of your mouth, improve breath control, and improve your speech.

A speech therapist may also recommend the use of assistive devices. In some cases, you may even find that apps designed for smartphones and tablets can help with your communication needs.

No medications specifically help with speech difficulties like scanning speech, but you may still benefit from medication if you experience symptoms that affect your muscles and movements. You should discuss your symptoms with a doctor so they can recommend the right medications for your needs.

In addition to working with an SLP, you may find that you can take steps on your own to make communication easier:

  • Let your listener know you have trouble producing words, and ask them to patiently wait until you’re finished speaking.
  • Ask your listener to let you know when they don’t understand, instead of pretending that they do. This gives you the opportunity to try again or try to communicate in a different way, such as by writing or drawing.
  • Try to communicate face-to-face whenever possible, so listeners can draw on nonverbal cues.

MS can make you feel isolated, and communication problems can make it worse. But others have discovered strategies to help you stay connected.


The following sections answer some frequently asked questions about MS and scanning speech.

Do people with scanning speech have trouble understanding language?

Scanning speech occurs because of problems coordinating the movements of the mouth and respiratory muscles. It does not affect your ability to understand or find the right words.

Does scanning speech happen only during MS flares, or is it also present during remission?

According to the MS Society UK, speech issues, like other MS symptoms, can be a regular symptom that comes and goes for some people, and may only occur as a sign of an MS flare-up for others.

Cerebellar dysarthria is more common in people with advanced secondary-progressive forms of the disease.

Medically reviewed on March 27, 2023

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About the author

Jenna Fletcher

Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.

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