Aphasia is a sign of some other condition, such as a stroke or a brain tumor.
A person with aphasia may:
- Speak in short or incomplete sentences
- Speak in sentences that don't make sense
- Speak unrecognizable words
- Not comprehend other people's conversation
- Interpret figurative language literally
- Write sentences that don't make sense
The severity and scope of the problems depend on the extent of damage and the area of the brain affected. Some people may comprehend what others say relatively well but struggle to find words to speak. Other people may be able to understand what they read but yet can't speak so that others can understand them.
Types of aphasia
Your doctor may refer to aphasia as nonfluent, fluent or global:
- Nonfluent aphasia. Damage to the language network near the left frontal area of the brain usually results in Broca aphasia, which is also called nonfluent aphasia. People with this disorder struggle to get words out, speak in very short sentences and leave out words. A person might say "Want food" or "Walk park today." Although the sentences aren't complete, a listener can usually understand the meaning. A person with Broca aphasia may comprehend what other people say to some degree. People with this type of aphasia are often aware of their own difficulty in communicating and may get frustrated with these limitations. Additionally, people with Broca aphasia may also have right-sided paralysis or weakness.
- Fluent aphasia. Wernicke aphasia is the result of damage to the language network in the middle left side of the brain. It's often called fluent aphasia. People with this form of aphasia may speak fluently in long, complex sentences that don't make sense or include unrecognizable, incorrect or unnecessary words. They usually don't comprehend spoken language well and often don't realize that others can't understand what they're saying.
- Global aphasia. Global aphasia results from extensive damage to the brain's language networks. People with global aphasia have severe disabilities with expression and comprehension.
When to see a doctor
Because aphasia is often a sign of a serious problem, such as a stroke, seek emergency medical care if you suddenly develop:
- Difficulty speaking
- Trouble comprehending speech
- Difficulty with word recall
- Problems with reading or writing
The most common cause of aphasia is brain damage resulting from a stroke — the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. This disruption of the blood supply leads to brain cell death or damage in areas of the brain controlling language. Brain damage caused by a severe head injury, a tumor, an infection or a degenerative process also can cause aphasia. In these cases, the aphasia usually occurs with other types of cognitive problems, such as memory problems or confusion.
Primary progressive aphasia is the term used for language difficulty that develops gradually. This is due to the gradual degeneration of brain cells located in the language networks. Sometimes this type of aphasia will progress to a more generalized dementia.
Sometimes temporary episodes of aphasia can occur. These can be due to migraines, seizures or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA occurs when blood flow is temporarily blocked to an area of the brain. People who've had a TIA are at an increased risk of having a stroke in the near future.
Aphasia can create numerous quality-of-life problems because communication is so much a part of your life. Communication difficulty may affect your:
- Day-to-day function
Language barriers may lead to embarrassment, depression and relationship problems.