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What medications are used to treat dystonia?

There are several different types of medications used to treat dystonia. They include:
  • Anticholinergics. Anticholinergics block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. They include Artane (trihexyphenidyl), Cogentin (benztropine) or Parsitan (ethopropazine). These drugs may cause side effects such as confusion, drowsiness, hallucination, personality changes, memory difficulties, dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention and constipation.
  • Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines affect the nervous system’s ability to process a neurotransmitter called GABA-A. Such drugs include Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam). A primary side effect is sedation, but others include depression, personality change and drug addiction. Rapid discontinuation can result in a withdrawal syndrome. Some dystonia patients tolerate very high doses without apparent side effects.
  • Baclofen. Baclofen (Lioresal) stimulates the body’s ability to process a neurotransmitter called GABA-B. The drug may be steadily delivered into the nervous system using a surgically implanted device. This is called intrathecal baclofen. Side effects may include confusion, dizziness or lightheadedness, drowsiness, nausea and muscle weakness.
  • Dopaminergic agents. These medicines increase the neurotransmitter dopamine. They include Sinemet (levodopa) or Parlodel (bromocriptine). Side effects may include parkinsonism, low blood pressure and depression.
  • Dopamine-depleting agents. Sometimes, patients with dystonia get better by blocking or lowering dopamine levels (instead of increasing them). Drugs used to do this include antipsychotic agents such as Clozaril (clozapine), Nitoman (tetrabenazine) or reserpine.
Medications used to treat dystonia include carbidopa/levodopa and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), some of the same medications used to treat Parkinson's disease.

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