Can anxiety cause aphasia? (A brief guide)

Can anxiety cause aphasia? (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss ‘Can anxiety cause aphasia?’, symptoms of aphasia, most common types of aphasia, What does anxiety have to do with speaking, Reasons for having speech difficulties, diagnosis and treatment options.

Can anxiety cause aphasia?

Anxiety is not responsible for causing aphasia, instead, it is caused by damage or injury to the brain in the areas related to the production or comprehension of speech and it can result in the inability to read or write. However, aphasia can also come on gradually if there is a brain tumour or if you have a neurodegenerative disease. The severity will depend on a number of factors, including the extent of brain damage and the potential cause.

As indicated by the Mayo Clinic, “Once the cause has been addressed, the main treatment for aphasia is speech and language therapy. The person with aphasia relearns and practices language skills and learns to use other ways to communicate. Family members often participate in the process, helping the person communicate.”

Symptoms of Aphasia 

Aphasia is the result of an underlying condition, such as a stroke, brain tumour or a degenerative disease. Someone with aphasia may present the following symptoms:

  • Speaking their sentences are incomplete or short.
  • Speaking their sentences doesn’t make sense.
  • Substituting one word for another or one sound for another.
  • Using words that are unrecognizable.
  • Not being able to understand other people’s conversations.
  • Writing sentences that don’t make any sense.

Most common types of aphasia

People with aphasia can present different types such as:

  • Comprehensive aphasia, which is also known as Broca’s or nonfluent aphasia. People that have this type of aphasia may understand what other people are saying but will struggle when speaking. Speech is severely reduced and there is a limited vocabulary. The struggle comprehends getting words out, speaking in very short sentences and omitting some words. For instance, someone may say “want food” instead of the full sentence “I want food”.
  • Expressive aphasia, also known as fluent or Wernicke’s aphasia is the type of aphasia where people may speak easily and fluently using long, complex sentences but won’t make any sense or will include words that are unrecognizable, incorrect or unnecessary. They often don’t realize that people can’t actually understand them and won’t understand when being spoken.
  • Global aphasia implies poor comprehension and difficulties forming words and sentences. This type of aphasia results from extensive damage to the language regions in the brain. People with global aphasia will have severe disabilities when expressing and comprehending language. This is considered the most severe form of aphasia.
  • Primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which is degenerative, meaning it is gradual and gets worse over time. There is a gradual loss of the ability to read, write, speak and understand what other people are saying. However, other mental processes such as memory, reasoning and judgement are usually not affected.
Can anxiety cause aphasia? (A brief guide)

What does anxiety have to do with speaking?

As we have mentioned, anxiety is not the cause of aphasia but people with aphasia can have anxiety and other mental illnesses. In addition, you may have experienced how anxiety seems to affect or make it difficult to think of the words you would like to use, maybe by paralyzing or living your mind ‘blank’.

However, other people may indicate they feel how they get their ‘tongue-tied’ or stutter when trying to have a conversation. But why is that? Well, when we are under abnormal stress, coordinating, articulating and thinking can become very difficult, causing speech difficulties.

In addition, feeling tired can also make it hard to think or choose the right words and even more so if you are feeling worried or embarrassed, feeling judged or criticized. Subsequently, freezing up or struggling to talk comes as a consequence.

You may be familiar with the feeling already, dry mouthy, stumbling over your words, having difficulties concentrating, and so on. However, it is OK to feel nervous, we all do and some people more than others and if you feel too overwhelmed, it is recommended to get some help.

Reasons for having speech difficulties

  • Having too much to drink can cause slurred speech since alcohol slows down how our brain communicates with the rest of our body. Your liver can only break down some of the alcohol, leaving the rest in your bloodstream. 
  • Having a stroke, as we have mentioned, can cause trouble speaking, among other difficulties with mobility. When your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen or it gets suddenly cut off then you could have slurred speech, difficulties speaking or troubles understanding.
  • Severe headaches can also cause difficulties with your speech, this is known as transient aphasia because it is temporary. Migraines can affect your senses and can cause dizziness, confusion, numbness, among others.
  • Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, brain cancer and seizures can cause speech issues.
  • Speech difficulties can be a side effect of certain medications and supplements and a symptom of the intake of certain sedatives and narcotics.

Diagnosis 

If you are experiencing speech problems and you suspect it might be aphasia, going to your doctor to confirm the diagnosis will be the best alternative. Your doctor most likely will do a physical checkup and a neurological exam to test your reflexes, strength, etc. They may request an MRI scan to identify what is causing the problem with your speech. 

Moreover, your doctor will also assess your language skills and your ability to name known or common objects, engage in a normal conversation, see if you understand and use words correctly, ask you to answer some questions about something you have read or heard, repeat some words and sentences out loud, give you instructions to follow, read and write, among other exercises to determine the status of your language abilities.

 Treatment

As indicated by the Mayo Clinic, “If the brain damage is mild, a person may recover language skills without treatment. However, most people undergo speech and language therapy to rehabilitate their language skills and supplement their communication experiences. Researchers are currently investigating the use of medications, alone or in combination with speech therapy, to help people with aphasia.”

Moreover, you could be given speech and language rehabilitation therapy but consider that recovering language skills may be a slow process. Some people are able to make significant progress depending on the type of damage or injury, but some may not regain the level of communication they had before the injury.

Can anxiety cause aphasia? (A brief guide)

Specifically for people with aphasia, speech and language therapy aims to help the person communicate and restore as much language as possible, helping them find other methods or effective ways of communicating. 

However, there are certain drugs that are still being researched that seem to be promising. These drugs seem to improve the blood flow in the brain to enhance recovery (i.e. memantine or piracetam). But more research is still needed before these treatments can actually be recommended by health professionals. Other treatment options involve brain stimulation (transcranial magnetic stimulation) that aim to stimulate the damaged cells, helping to improve the ability to name things.

Why is this blog about Can anxiety cause aphasia important?

As we have discussed in ‘Can anxiety cause aphasia?’, we have indicated how anxiety does not cause aphasia, however, people with aphasia can suffer from anxiety. Moreover, we mentioned how aphasia is the result of an underlying condition, such as a stroke, brain tumour or degenerative disease and some of the symptoms that indicate someone might have aphasia.

However, speech problems can also be linked to high levels of stress, although temporary, migraines, seizures, alcohol use, neurological disorders, or as the side effect of certain medications or substances. Also, people who suspect they have aphasia or speech problems are encouraged to visit their doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Can anxiety cause aphasia

Can stress and anxiety cause speech problems?

Stress and anxiety can cause temporary speech problems, in the sense where coordination and thinking problems may occur. This happens when our body becomes abnormally stressed and there may be changes to your breathing pattern which contributes to voice and speech difficulties (i.e. stuttering) even if there is no physical problem.

Can you get aphasia from stress?

No, you can’t get aphasia from stress. However, living constantly stressed can increase your risk of having a stroke which can lead to aphasia but if you already have aphasia, your symptoms may be more noticeable during periods of stress. Moreover, if someone is constantly under a lot of stress, they may start noticing speech problems, concentrating, difficulty retrieving words or even thinking clearly. 

What can cause temporary aphasia?

Temporary aphasia or transient aphasia can be caused by seizures, severe migraines or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a ‘ministroke’. However, it can also be a symptom of neurodegenerative diseases or having a brain tumour. 

How does aphasia affect language?

Aphasia can make communication with the patient very difficult, almost impossible but sometimes it can be very mild. It can affect mainly a single aspect of language, such as the ability to recall names of people or objects, the ability to put words into sentences or the ability to read. People with aphasia (dependent on the type) can have severely reduced speech, limited vocabulary, inability to understand spoken words, produce logical sentences, etc. 

Why do I forget words when speaking?

If you forget words when speaking you could have aphasia and it can range from mild to severe. Aphasia is considered a communication disorder that is caused by damage or injury to the areas of the brain associated with language. This is more common in older adults and particularly those who have suffered from a stroke. People with aphasia may find it difficult speaking and finding the appropriate words to complete their thoughts. There are several types of aphasia and they can affect people in different ways. The most common types are Broca’s aphasia, Wernick’s aphasia and anomic aphasia.

References 

Mayoclinic.org: “Aphasia”

Voiceaerobicsdvd.com: “When Anxiety Causes Difficulty Speaking”

Webmd.com: “What’s Causing My Sudden Speech Problems?”

Can anxiety cause aphasia? (A brief guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.