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Adults and children with dystonia experience severe muscle spasms and stiffness that can affect their ability to walk, move normally and lead independent lives. When medications are not effective, our team at the UCLA Neuromodulation for Movement Disorders and Pain Program, can help relieve your symptoms with deep brain stimulation surgery.
What is dystonia?
The treatment Veronica's doctor, UCLA neurosurgeon Dr. Antonio DeSalles, recommended was to surgically implant a pacemaker device to stop the impulses and block the transmission of electricity to the muscles. The procedure involves first implanting the electrodes and threading the wires into the patient's brain.
Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle spasms. People diagnosed with dystonia display repetitive body movements or distorted posture. The condition may also lead to rigidity, or muscle stiffness. There is no known cause for most forms of dystonia. In rare cases, the disease can be linked to a genetic disorder. The most common one is DYT-1. Studies indicate that patients with this abnormality may respond particularly well to deep brain stimulation.
The first symptoms of dystonia typically begin just before puberty, but they may occur as early as age 3 or as late as young adulthood. Symptoms develop more quickly in patients when the disease appears at an early age.
- If the disease begins early, it affects the legs, making walking difficult
- If the disease begins later in life, it affects the torso and neck, often with involuntary neck movements
Patients diagnosed with dystonia may also experience the following symptoms:
- Involuntary muscle spasm, or tremor
- Muscle stiffness
- Uncontrollable eye blinking
- Difficulty speaking
Dystonia may progress to the point of complete immobility and death from secondary complications, usually pneumonia. Learn more about Dystonia.
Deep brain stimulation surgery for dystonia at UCLA
If you've been diagnosed with dystonia, your doctor will start with medications. There are many prescription drug options to treat dystonia including botox injections, but often they do not completely relieve symptoms. If medications fail to work for you and your physical symptoms have become debilitating, your doctor may recommend deep brain stimulation.
Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes, or wires, deep inside the brain to change irregular brain activity. Learn more about deep brain stimulation.
Deep brain stimulation for dystonia: Am I a candidate?
Some types of dystonia respond better to deep brain stimulation than others:
- Primary vs. secondary dystonia: Patients with primary dystonia caused by a mutation of the DYT-1 gene respond best. Those with secondary dystonia caused by trauma may still be considered, unless they have other brain injury-related symptoms, such as spasticity or seizures
- Generalized, focal or segmental dystonia: Patients with generalized dystonia (occurring throughout the body) respond best. Those with some segmental dystonias (occurring in specific areas, such as cervical dystonia) may also be considered. Focal dystonias (such as writer's cramp) are usually treated with botox injections into affected muscles and are rarely considered for deep brain stimulation.