Scanning Speech: Everything You Need to Know

Scanning speech is an abnormal speech pattern involving long, abnormal pauses between words or syllables. It occurs as a result of muscle weakness. The problem often happens with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Scanning speech changes the normal flow and pattern of speech. This change in speech rhythm makes it hard to understand a person with this problem.

There is no cure for scanning speech. Some drugs used to treat MS may improve the problem. Speech therapy can also help you adjust to speaking with scanning speech.

This article discusses scanning speech, its causes, and treatment.

A person speaking to a healthcare provider.

Solskin / Verywell Health

What Is Scanning Speech?

Scanning speech is a type of dysarthria, a speech problem related to the muscles that control speech.

Scanning speech results in the inability to achieve proper word formation and speech rhythm. Long, unnecessary pauses interrupt the normal flow of speech, breaking up sentences or words. When it occurs with MS, it can also involve slurred speech.

Scanning speech is sometimes referred to as "explosive speech" since the speech segments can involve erratic periods of loud, rapid speech.

This problem makes it hard to communicate. A person with scanning speech can say the words in a sentence or thought. However, the unnatural pauses make it hard for the listener to put together the fragments and comprehend the speaker's meaning.

Scanning Speech Example

People with scanning speech may vary in the way their speech sounds based on the degree of nerve damage. However, long pauses between words or syllables, as in this example, are typical:

I live on the four (pause) teenth floor of an apart (pause) ment build (pause) ing.


Scanning speech results from damage to the nerves that stimulate your lower face, tongue, lips, and throat muscles to talk. Typically, this is a result of damage to an area of the brain called the cerebellum, which is responsible for speech and muscle coordination.

Damage often occurs due to the formation of lesions on the cerebellum, a common effect of MS. This, and any other type of damage, causes muscle weakness that interferes with the ability to form words, even though the brain knows the right words to say.

Damage to the cerebellum can be present at birth or occur later in life. It is linked to the onset of scanning speech due to the following causes:

Multiple Sclerosis and Speech Issues

Multiple sclerosis interferes with speech by damaging the nerves that control the muscles needed for normal speech. Problems like scanning speech and other dysarthrias result and make communication difficult.

Scanning speech is just one of the speech issues linked to MS. Speech issues in MS are typically classified as forms of dysarthria or dysphonia. Symptoms include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Nasal speech
  • Extremely low or high volume
  • Harsh voice quality
  • Distorted articulation
  • Damaged pitch control
  • Abnormal emphasis on phrases or intonation
  • Lower than normal breath support and control

A Common Problem

Speech issues are a common problem for people with MS. Up to 40% of people with MS have a speech disorder linked to the disease. Scanning speech and other types of dysarthria are considered the most common forms.


While there is no cure for scanning speech, there are ways to manage symptoms and improve communication. People with scanning speech may benefit from one or more of the following approaches:

  • Speech therapy to learn how to compensate for the problem
  • Exercises to strengthen muscles that control speech
  • Alternative means of speech production, like a computer board
  • Medications that relieve MS symptoms such as spasticity, tremors, or fatigue
  • Assistive devices that can amplify the voice

Individualized Treatment

Treatment for scanning speech can vary by individual. Factors such as the degree of nerve damage mean that every person has different needs. Having other speech problems, such as slurred speech or explosive speech, can make treatment for scanning speech more challenging.


Scanning speech is a common speech problem. It involves the use of unnecessary pauses between words or syllables. It can also involve voice tremors or the uneven emphasis of words or phrases.

The problem occurs when the cerebellum is damaged. This can occur from lesions, injury, or diseases of the nervous system. It is commonly linked with MS.

Scanning speech can be a challenge for those who have it. Being unable to speak clearly can be lonely. While there are no cures, there are ways to manage the problem and improve speech.

Speech therapy and drugs to relieve common MS symptoms can increase speech control and quality. In addition, assistive devices and smartphone apps can often replace the need for flawless speech.

A Word From Verywell

Living with scanning speech can affect your quality of life. It can be isolating to know that you can't always communicate clearly. When combined with the other challenges MS can cause, the onset of scanning speech can feel overwhelming.

It's important to know that you're not alone in dealing with this problem. Many people living with MS deal with some type of speech disorder.

Participating in speech therapy can help you learn ways to slow and change your speech to make it more understandable. A speech-language pathologist can also help you strengthen damaged muscles and recommend technologies that can help others understand you better.

Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if you can benefit from medications to correct MS symptoms that may be making your problem worse.

Don't be afraid to let others know about your challenges in speaking clearly. This can prepare your listener for the types of problems that may arise.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does multiple sclerosis cause speech problems?

    Multiple sclerosis can affect the different muscles used in speaking. It can also damage the brain stem, the area that connects the spinal cord and brain. These problems make it hard to speak normally, even when the brain knows the right words to say.

  • What does scanning speech sound like?

    Scanning speech usually involves unnecessary pauses between words or syllables. It can sometimes involve slurring, which can complicate the condition. An example of scanning speech is, "The yel (pause) low build (pause) ing is at the cor (pause) ner."

  • How is scanning speech different from stuttering?

    While both disorders can interfere with normal speech, the two conditions produce different problems. Scanning speech results in long, unnecessary pauses between words or syllables. Stuttering causes the repetition or stretching out of a sound.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Speech problems.

  2. Multiple Sclerosis Society of America. Speech difficulties.

  3. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Dysarthria.

  4. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Dysarthria in multiple sclerosis.

  5. MS Focus Magazine. Getting the word out: speech difficulties and MS.

  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. A resource for healthcare professionals: dysarthria in multiple sclerosis.

By Anna Giorgi
Anna Zernone Giorgi is a writer who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. Her experience includes over 25 years of writing on health and wellness-related subjects for consumers and medical professionals, in addition to holding positions in healthcare communications.