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Definition  

Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is interrupted by:

  • Repetition or prolongation of sounds, words, or syllables
  • An inability to begin a word

In an attempt to speak, the person who is stuttering may:

  • Frequently blink the eyes
  • Have abnormal facial or upper body movements
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Muscles and Nerves Involved in Speech  
Tongue Innervation

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Causes  

The cause of stuttering is not completely understood. Some experts have suggested that stuttering may occur when:

  • A child's ability to speak does not match his verbal demands
  • There are psychological factors in a child’s life such as mental illness, extreme stress
  • Problems occur in the connections between muscles, nerves, and areas of the brain that control speech
  • There are problems in the part of the brain that controls the timing of speech muscle activation
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Risk Factors  

Factors that may increase your chance of developing stuttering include:

  • Family history of stuttering
  • Sex: male
  • Age: between 2-6 years of age
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Symptoms  

Symptoms may include:

  • Repetition of sounds, syllables, words, or phrases
  • Prolongation of sounds within words
  • Between-word pauses and lack of sound
  • Spurting speech
  • Accompanying behaviors, such as:
    • Blinking
    • Facial ticks
    • Lip tremors
    • Tense muscles of the mouth, jaw, or neck
  • Worsening symptoms when speaking in public
  • Improvement in symptoms when speaking in private
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Diagnosis  

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis may be based on:

  • Stuttering history
  • Circumstances under which stuttering occurs
  • Speech and language capabilities
  • Evaluation of hearing and motor skills, including a pediatric and neurological examination
  • Further testing and treatment by a speech language pathologist who specializes in communication disorders
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Treatment  

Treatment can improve stuttering. The main goal is to get and maintain a feeling of control over speech fluency. The doctor or speech therapist can:

  • Evaluate the stuttering pattern
  • Assess what strategies may work best

Treatment may include:

  • Behavioral therapy—This focuses on behavior modifications that can be made to improve fluency.
  • Speech therapy—A primary goal of this type of therapy is to slow the rate of speech.

There is little evidence to support the use of drugs to improve speech fluency.

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Prevention  

There are no guidelines to prevent stuttering. However, early recognition and treatment may minimize or prevent a life-long problem.