Health Questions and Answers


Define aphasia.
Aphasia is an acquired disturbance in language functions (i.e., the ability to manipulate sounds and symbols into concepts, words, and phrases). It must not be confused with dysarthria or slurred speech, which is strictly a problem with the motor control of talking. Aphasics not only have difficulty with talking but also with writing, reading, and all other forms of language production.

What is the most common cause of aphasia in adults?
The most common cause of aphasia in adults is cerebrovascular disease.

Define fluent aphasias.
Fluent aphasias are due to lesions in the cortex in the posterior part of the dominant hemisphere, around the posterior temporal lobe. Such aphasias-also known as Wernicke’s, sensory, receptive, or posterior aphasia-result in speech that is fluent and even loquacious, but senseless. These patients can talk but make no sense. They have many neologisms and paraphasic errors, inventing words and sounds as they go along and stringing words together in nongrammatical, meaningless fashions. Patients usually have impaired naming, repetition, and severely impaired comprehension as well.

How do nonfluent aphasias differ from fluent aphasias?
Nonfluent aphasias are generally produced by lesions in the cortex, in the anterior part of the dominant hemisphere around the sylvian fissure, and are often referred to by other expressions such as Broca’s, motor, expressive, or anterior aphasia. Such patients have difficulty producing language and either cannot speak or do so only in monosyllables and short telegraphic phrases. Naming and repetition are also impaired, but comprehension is relatively preserved.

Compare the two main types of aphasia.


Type Fluent Names Repeats Comprehends
Broca’s No No No Yes
Wernicke’s Yes No No No

WEB SITES (American Academy of Neurology)


  • Aminoff M: Neurology and General Medicine, 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Churchill-Livingstone, 2001.
  • Noseworthy JH (ed): Neurologic Therapeutics. London, Martin Dunitz, 2003.
  • Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J: Neurology in Clinical Practice, 4th ed. Philadelphia, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004.
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  • Victor M, Ropper AH: Prinicples of Neurology, 7th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2001.

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