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Drugs. 2001;61(13):1921-43.

Cervical dystonia pathophysiology and treatment options.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, The Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, New York, 10029, USA.


Dystonia is a syndrome of sustained involuntary muscle contractions, frequently causing twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal posturing. Cervical dystonia (CD) is a form of dystonia that involves neck muscles. However, CD is not the only cause of neck rotation. Torticollis may be caused by orthopaedic, musculofibrotic, infectious and other neurological conditions that affect the anatomy of the neck, and structural causes. It is estimated that there are between 60,000 and 90,000 patients with CD in the US. The majority of the patients present with a combination of neck rotation (rotatory torticollis or rotatocollis), flexion (anterocollis), extension (retrocollis), head tilt (laterocollis) or a lateral or sagittal shift. Neck posturing may be either tonic, clonic or tremulous, and may result in permanent and fixed contractures. Sensory tricks ('geste antagonistique') often temporarily ameliorate dystonic movements and postures. Commonly used sensory tricks by patients with CD include touching the chin, back of the head or top of the head. Patients with CD are classified according to aetiology into two groups: primary CD (idiopathic--may be genetic or sporadic) or secondary CD (symptomatic). Patients with primary CD have no evidence by history, physical examination or laboratory studies (except primary dystonia gene) of any secondary cause for the dystonic symptoms. CD is a part of either generalised or focal dystonic syndrome which may have a genetic basis, with an identifiable genetic association. Secondary or symptomatic CD may be caused by central or peripheral trauma, exposure to dopamine receptor antagonists (tardive), neurodegenerative disease, and other conditions associated with abnormal functioning of the basal ganglia. In the majority of patients with CD, the aetiology is not identifiable and the disorder is often classified as primary. Unless the aetiological investigation reveals a specific therapeutic intervention, therapy for CD is symptomatic. It includes supportive therapy and counselling, physical therapy, pharmacotherapy, chemodenervation [botulinum toxin (BTX), phenol, alcohol], and central and peripheral surgical therapy. The most widely used and accepted therapy for CD is local intramuscular injections of BTX-type A. Currently, both BTX type A and type B are commercially available, and type F has undergone testing. Pharmacotherapy, including anticholinergics, dopaminergic depleting and blocking agents, and other muscle relaxants can be used alone or in combination with other therapeutic interventions. Surgery is usually reserved for patients with CD in whom other forms of treatment have failed.

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