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Dystonia and Deep Brain Stimulation

how deep brain stimulation may help you live your best life.

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Find answers to your questions about deep brain stimulation.



Find definitions of technical terms in our glossary.

Dystonia: A Life-Altering Disorder

Dystonia is a neurological disorder caused by a dysfunction in an area of the brain responsible for controlling movement. Dystonia affects people of all ages. For some, dystonia manifests during childhood, which can lead to particularly disabling symptoms. For others, symptoms do not show until adulthood. Symptoms can progress over time and affect the entire body, or they can stay localized to a specific area.1

Causes and symptoms of dystonia

In general, dystonia is thought to be caused by dysfunction in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. A balance of chemical and electrical signals communicates between this area and other areas of the brain to control movement.

When functioning properly, the basal ganglia regulate movement by continuously making automated adjustments. However, in dystonia, the basal ganglia do not function properly, resulting in hyperkinetic or fast-paced movements and muscle contractions, which can affect one muscle or many.

Progression of dystonia symptoms

Symptoms of dystonia often occur in different parts of the body, including the head and neck, face, eyelids, voice box or even the whole body. 

As dystonia symptoms change over time, you may have noticed the following:

  • Your dystonia symptoms spread from one area of your body to other areas of your body.
  • Your abnormal involuntary movements become worse.2
  • Your medication makes it more difficult for you to sustain attention and negatively affects your verbal memory and processing speed.3
  • You have built up an immunity to your medications or to your botulinum toxin injections.2

Living with dystonia can be challenging. Activities such driving, getting in and out of a car, completing household tasks, dressing and even eating become increasingly difficult over time.

DBS for dystonia

If your dystonia symptoms have progressed to the point where you and your physician are discussing new therapy options, you may be considering an approved therapy called deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS has been clinically used as an option for managing some of the symptoms of dystonia when other treatments are no longer sufficient.

Dystonia symptoms that DBS targets

By enabling brain circuits that control movement to function better, DBS may relieve some of your dystonia symptoms,4 including:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Twisting
  • Involuntary contractions
  • Posturing
  • Uncontrolled movements

The goal of DBS is to help reduce the motor-related symptoms of dystonia and improve overall quality of life. Improvement from DBS is often gradual.3 The benefit is variable and depends on the type of dystonia and the presence of other conditions or illnesses.3 In primary dystonia, clinical experience demonstrates sustained long-term benefit.5 It is important to discuss with your doctor what the realistic expectations are in your individual case.

While DBS therapy is proven to help manage symptoms related to dystonia, it is important to understand that DBS is not a cure for dystonia. St. Jude Medical™ DBS therapy can treat some of the symptoms of dystonia, but does not cure the underlying condition. 

DBS therapy is not for everyone, so it is important to talk with your physician about the benefits and risks. As with any surgery or therapy, DBS has risks and complications. See more about risks for DBS therapy.

Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice from your physician or other health care providers. You should always talk with your physician about your treatment and any symptoms you are experiencing. 


1. Dystonia Europe. Dystonia Europe Patient Leaflet. Brussels, Belgium. (2013). Retrieved from
2. Truong, D., Pathak, M., Frei, K. (2010). Living Well with Dystonia. New York: Hamilton Printing.
3. Okun, M. (2009). The Dystonia Patient: A Guide to Practical Management. New York: Demos Medical Publishing.
4. Andrews C, Aviles-Olmos I, Hariz M, et al. (2010). Which patients with dystonia benefit from deep brain stimulation? A metaregression of individual patient outcomes. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 81(12), 1383-1389.
5. Tagliati, M., Krack, P., Volkmann, J., Aziz, T., Krauss, J. K., Kupsch, A., & Vidailhet, A. M. (2011). Long term management of DBS in dystonia: Response to stimulation, adverse events, battery changes and special considerations. Movement Disorders, 26(Suppl. 1), S54-S62.