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Restricted blood flow to brain behind stutters, study finds

Wednesday 25th January 2017
Stutters develop when blood flow to certain parts of the brain is restricted, new research shows. Image: SiPhotography via iStock
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Speech impediments such as stutters occur when a person has restricted blood flow to the part of their brain that controls verbal communication, new research has revealed.

Doctors from the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the University of Southern California published a study at the end of last year that explored where stutters come from and whether or not they can be medically controlled, aside from through speech therapy.

Scientists performed proton shift imaging on the brains of 47 children and the same number of adults - some with speech impediments and some without - in order to see exactly which parts of the brain were different in those with a stutter.

Analysis of these images showed that stutters typically develop when blood flow is restricted to the sections of the brain responsible for regulating motor activity, attention and emotion. When these are all affected at the same time, people can struggle to speak clearly.

What's more, because the area that controls emotions is impacted, they are likely to feel frustrated, anxious or upset as a result, which can potentially lead to their speech problems worsening over the long term.

The research also revealed that there were some differences in the metabolic profiles of children with stutters compared to adults with the same speech problems, which may suggest that these impediments are partly related to emotions and anxiety rather than continued neurological problems as people get older.

Lead author of the study Bradley S Peterson commented: "That stuttering is related to speech and language-based brain circuits seems clear. Attention-regulating portions of the brain are related to control circuits that are important in governing behaviour.

"People with changes here are more likely to stutter and have more severe stuttering. And emotions like anxiety and stress also tend to make stuttering worse, likely because this network interacts with language and attention control circuits."

Therefore, this could be an area for speech therapists to focus on with their patients in order to prevent the actions of these control circuits from becoming even more sporadic and making a stutter worse over the long term as a result.

Written by Martin Lambert

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