UT Southwestern Medical Center’s specialty-trained physicians use the latest advances in medicine and technology to offer the best course of treatment for each patient diagnosed with dystonia. Individual treatment depends on the type of dystonia, the patient’s age, and how long he or she has had the condition.
Patients at UT Southwestern have access to a range of treatment options, from medication to surgical intervention.
The following drugs can provide relief from dystonia symptoms:
- Anticholinergics block a
neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which contributes to muscle spasms in
some dystonia cases.
- Benzodiazepines act like
muscle relaxants through the GABA system in the brain, which inhibits the
transmission of nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord.
- Baclofen is a muscle
relaxer that is commonly used to treat select cases of dystonia, for example
dystonia following traumatic injury to the central nervous system.
- Carbidopa and levodopa can increase levels of the
neurotransmitter dopamine. A reduced level of dopamine is one of the possible
causes of dystonia. Levodopa is converted to dopamine in the brain, and
carbidopa keeps levodopa from being broken down before it reaches the brain.
Botulinum Toxin Injection for Dystonia
UT Southwestern specializes in the use of botulinum toxin injections for a variety of dystonias, including focal dystonia and cervical dystonia. Botulinum toxin is injected into the affected muscles to help relax them. Results last for about three months, so injections are repeated at regular intervals to maintain ongoing benefits.
Surgery for Dystonia
UT Southwestern offers expertise in surgical treatments for dystonia, including:
- Balcofen pump surgery: A pump is
placed under the skin of the abdomen, along with a small catheter that is
inserted into the fluid around the spinal cord. The pump is programmed by a
remote computerized device to deliver small doses of baclofen directly to the
spinal fluid. This procedure is especially effective at targeting dystonia
affecting the legs.
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS): During
this procedure, a neurosurgeon implants electrodes into a specific part of the brain.
The electrodes are connected to a generator implanted in the chest near the
collarbone that sends electrical pulses to the brain. DBS can reduce dystonia
symptoms by 25 to 80 percent, especially in people for whom medical therapy has
Occupational, Speech, and Physical Therapy for Dystonia
Many forms of dystonia affect mobility, posture, balance, stamina, and the ability to complete everyday tasks. Physical therapy can help improve flexibility and strengthen weakened muscles.
Spasmodic dystonia or voice dystonia can cause involuntary spasms in the throat muscles that are responsible for speech, resulting in a change in vocal quality. People with these types of dystonia might benefit from speech therapy.