Oral Medications

There are many medications that have been shown to improve dystonia.

No single drug works for every individual, and several trials of medications may be necessary to determine which is most appropriate for you. Working with your physician to determine the drugs best suited for your case may be challenging, but finding the right drug(s) can result in a dramatic improvement in symptoms.

There are several categories of medications used in the treatment of dystonia. These categories include:


Anticholinergics include such drugs as Artane® (trihexyphenidyl), Cogentin® (benztropine), or Parsitan® (ethopropazine) which block a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Use of these drugs is sometimes limited by central side effects such as confusion, drowsiness, hallucination, personality change, and memory difficulties, and peripheral side effects such as dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention, and constipation.


Benzodiazepines, such as Valium® (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan® (lorazepam) affect the nervous system’s ability to process a neurotransmitter called GABA-A. 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 adverse effects.


Baclofen (Lioresal®) stimulates the body’s ability to process a neurotransmitter called GABA-B. Intrathecal forms of baclofen, in which a steady dose of medication is fed into the nervous system by a surgically implant device, are also available. Side effects may include confusion, dizziness or lightheadedness, drowsiness, nausea, and muscle weakness.

Dopaminergic agents/dopamine-depleting agents

Some patients with primary dystonia respond to drugs which increase the neurotransmitter dopamine. These drugs are called dopaminergic agents and include Sinemet (levodopa) or Parlodel (bromocriptine). Side effects may include parkinsonism, hypotension, and depression. Ironically, however, many patients respond to agents which block or deplete dopamine. Many of these drugs are such as antipsychotic agents like Clozaril® (clozapine), Nitoman® (tetrabenazine), or Reserpine®.


Tetrabenezine (Xenazine®) is a drug that decreases dopamine and is used to treat a variety of movement disorders.

Most of the medications used to treat dystonia work by affecting the neurotransmitter chemicals in the nervous system that execute the brain's instructions for muscle movement and the control of movement. Patients are typically started on a very low dose of medication, and the dose is gradually increased until the benefit is fully realized and/or side effects warrant a lower dose.

Communicating with your doctor about medications

It is very important that you follow your physician's instructions about how and when to take these medications and to not abruptly stop taking them unless under the guidance of the prescribing physician. If you do not understand the prescription directions or are unsure of the dosing, call your physician's office for clarification. Report all side effects to your physician.

You may be eligible for financial assistance for your prescription medications. Visit the following websites to learn more:

Partnership for Prescription Assistance: http://www.pparx.org/

Needy Meds: http://www.needymeds.org/

Accelerating Research & Inspiring Hope

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) has served the dystonia community since 1976. Join us in our global effort to find a cure.