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Aphasia

Pronounced: Ah-fay-gee-ah

Definition

Aphasia is a communication disorder. People with aphasia may have difficulty with the expression and/or understanding of language, as well as reading and writing.

Causes

Aphasia is caused by an injury to parts of the brain that are involved with language. The injury may be the result of:

  • Stroke—most common cause
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Gunshot wound
  • Brain tumor
  • Brain infection
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Other brain conditions

Stroke

si1213_97870_1_Ischemic Stroke.jpg

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Aphasia is more common in older people. Other factors that may increase your chance of aphasia include:

  • Increasing age
  • Family history of aphasia
  • Prior history of transient ischemic attacks (TIA)—also called mini-strokes
Symptoms

Aphasia is a symptom of an underlying problem. It may include:

  • Difficulty speaking:
    • Speaking in short, fragmented phrases
    • Putting words in the wrong order
    • Using incorrect grammar
    • Switching sounds or words
    • Speaking in nonsense
    • Anomia—word-finding problems
  • Problems understanding oral language:
    • Needing extra time to process language
    • Difficulty following very fast speech
    • Taking the literal meaning of a figure of speech
  • Problems reading
  • Problems writing
Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

If you have a brain condition, you are probably already seeing a doctor who specializes in the nervous system. This doctor will most likely be able to recognize your aphasia. Some simple tests may be done. For example, you may be asked to follow commands, answer questions, name objects, and have a conversation. You may then be referred to a speech-language pathologist who will perform additional tests to assess your speech and language skills.

Imaging tests are used to evaluate the brain and other structures. These may include:

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Lumbar puncture—to test cerebrospinal fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord

Your brain activity may be measured. This can be done with electroencephalogram (EEG).

You may also be given the following specialized tests:

  • Evaluation of speech
  • Assessment of the strength and coordination of the speech muscles
  • Vocabulary and grammar tests
  • Comprehension tests
  • Reading and writing tests
  • Swallowing tests
  • Neuropsychological tests
Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will focus on:

  • Treating the underlying cause of aphasia
  • Aphasia symptoms

Options for treating aphasia itself include:

Speech-Language Therapy

A speech-language specialist will help you:

  • Use your remaining communication abilities
  • Restore lost abilities
  • Learn to compensate for language problems
  • Learn other methods of communicating.

This therapy may take place in both individual and group settings.

Family Counseling

A speech-language therapist will help you and your family learn how to best communicate with each other.

Psychological evaluation may also be helpful.

Prevention

Since stroke is a common cause of aphasia, follow these guidelines to help prevent stroke:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables .
  • Limit salt and fat in your diet.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to successfully quit.
  • If you drink, do so in moderation. Moderation is 2 or less drinks per day for men and 1 or less drinks per day for women.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Ask your doctor if you should take low-dose aspirin.
  • Properly treat and control chronic conditions, like diabetes.

If you have signs of a stroke, call for emergency medical services right away.

RESOURCES:

National Aphasia Association
http://www.aphasia.org

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
http://www.ninds.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Aphasia Institute
http://www.aphasia.ca

Brain Injury Association of Alberta
http://www.biaa.ca

References:

Aphasia. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/Aphasia. Accessed May 21, 2013.

Aphasia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 2, 2012. Accessed May 21, 2013.

Aphasia. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/pages/aphasia.aspx. Updated October 2008. Accessed May 21, 2013.



Last reviewed January 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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