What Is Dysphasia?
Dysphasia is a condition that affects your ability to produce and understand spoken language. Dysphasia can also cause reading, writing, and gesturing impairments.
Dysphasia is often mistaken for other disorders. It’s sometimes confused with dysarthria, a speech disorder. It may also be confused with dysphagia, a swallowing disorder.
Dysphasia is a language disorder. It occurs when the areas of the brain responsible for turning thoughts into spoken language are damaged and can’t function properly. Consequently, people with dysphasia often have difficulty with verbal communication.
Dysphasia is caused by brain damage. Strokes are the most common cause of brain damage that leads to dysphasia. Other causes include infections, head injuries, and tumors.
What causes this and who’s at risk?
Dysphasia occurs when the areas of the brain responsible for language production and comprehension are damaged or injured. This damage can be caused by a number of different medical conditions.
Strokes are the most common cause of dysphasia. During a stroke, a blockage or breakage in the blood vessels of the brain deprives the cells of blood, and consequently oxygen. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen for too long, they may die.
Some other common causes of dysphasia include:
- severe head injuries
- brain tumors
- neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- transient ischemic attacks (TIA)
Some causes of dysphasia, such as TIAs, migraines, and seizures, only result in temporary brain damage. Language abilities are restored once the attack is over.
While certain causes of dysphasia, such as head injuries, are unpredictable, others, such as strokes, have clear risk factors. These include:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- a sedentary lifestyle
Addressing these issues can lower your risk for stroke and, as a result, your risk for dysphasia.
What’s the difference between dysphasia and aphasia?
Dysphasia and aphasia have the same causes and symptoms. Some sources suggest aphasia is more severe, and involves a complete loss of speech and comprehension abilities. Dysphasia, on the other hand, only involves moderate language impairments.
However, many health professionals and researchers use these terms interchangeably to refer to full and partial disruptions of language abilities. Aphasia is the preferred term in North America, while dysphasia may be more common in other parts of the world.
Types of dysphasia
There are several different types and subtypes of dysphasia. Each type is associated with damage to a particular area of the brain. However, among those affected by dysphasia, distinctions are often less clear. Brain damage is rarely clear-cut.
Expressive dysphasia affects speech and language output. People who have expressive dysphasia have difficulty producing speech, though they may understand what’s said to them. They’re usually aware of their difficulties expressing themselves.
Broca’s dysphasia (also known as Broca’s aphasia)
Broca’s dysphasia is one of the most common types of dysphasia. It involves damage to a part of the brain known as Broca’s area. Broca’s area is responsible for speech production. People with Broca’s dysphasia have extreme difficulty forming words and sentences, and may speak with difficulty or not at all. They often understand what others say better than they speak.
Transcortical dysphasia (also known as transcortical aphasia)
Transcortical dysphasia is less common. Also known as isolation dysphasia, it affects the nerve fibers that carry information between the brain’s language centers, as well as other centers that integrate and process subtle aspects of communication. These include tone of voice, emotion, and facial expressions.
There are three types of transcortical dysphasia:
- transcortical sensory dysphasia
- transcortical motor dysphasia
- mixed transcortical dysphasia
Receptive dysphasia affects language comprehension. People who have receptive dysphasia are often able to speak, but without meaning. They’re often unaware that others don’t understand them.
Wernicke’s dysphasia (also known as Wernicke’s aphasia)
Wernicke’s dysphasia involves damage to a part of the brain called Wernicke’s area. Wernicke’s area helps us to understand the meaning of words and language. People with Wernicke’s dysphasia may be able to speak fluently, but their use of nonsensical or irrelevant words and phrases can make what they say incomprehensible. They may also have difficulties understanding spoken language.
Anomic dysphasia (also known as anomic aphasia)
Anomic dysphasia is a milder type of dysphasia. People with anomic dysphasia have difficulties retrieving specific words, including names. When they can’t remember a word, they might pause, use gestures, or substitute a general word or roundabout description.
Conduction dysphasia (also known as conduction aphasia)
Conduction dysphasia is one of the rarest types of dysphasia. People with conduction dysphasia can understand and produce speech, but may have difficulty repeating it.
Global dysphasia (also called global aphasia) is caused by widespread damage to the brain’s language centers. People with global dysphasia have extreme difficulty expressing and understanding language.
Symptoms of dysphasia
People with dysphasia may experience difficulties using or comprehending speech. Symptoms depend on the location and severity of brain damage.
Speaking symptoms include:
- struggling to find words (anomia)
- speaking slowly or with great difficulty
- speaking in single words or short fragments
- omitting small words, such as articles and prepositions (telegraphic speech)
- making grammatical errors
- mixing up word order
- substituting words or sounds
- using nonsensical words
- speaking fluently but without meaning
Comprehension symptoms include:
- struggling to understand speech
- taking extra time to understand speech
- giving incorrect answers to simple questions
- having difficulty understanding complex grammar
- having difficulty understanding fast speech
- misinterpreting meaning (for instance, taking figurative language literally)
- lacking awareness of errors
People with dysphasia may also have other difficulties, particularly with reading and writing.
How it’s diagnosed
Dysphasia often appears suddenly — for instance, following a head injury. When it appears without an obvious cause, it’s usually a sign of another condition, such as a stroke or a brain tumor. If you’re experiencing symptoms of dysphasia, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor might suggest some or all of the following tests:
- a physical exam
- a neurological exam
- other tests of abilities such as reflexes, strength, and feeling
- an imaging test, such as an MRI scan
- a speech-language evaluation
Keep in mind that your doctor might use the term “aphasia” to refer to the symptoms.
In mild cases of dysphasia, language skills may be recovered without treatment. However, most of the time, speech and language therapy is used to redevelop language skills.
Speech and language therapists focus on helping individuals with dysphasia regain as much language as possible, while also helping them learn how to use compensation techniques and other modes of communication.
What’s the outlook?
Although significant improvements can be made, restoring full communication abilities after brain damage has occurred isn’t always possible. Treatment is most effective when it occurs as soon as possible after the stroke or injury, so speak with your doctor about your symptoms as soon as they occur.