Use of intrathecal baclofen in the treatment of patients with dystonia

Blair Ford, Paul Greene, Elan D. Louis, Giselle Petzinger, Susan B. Bressman, Robert Goodman, Mitchell F. Brin, Saud Sadiq, Stanley Fahn

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95 Scopus citations


Background: Continuous infusion of intrathecal (IT) baclofen is a highly effective standard therapy for severe spasticity of spinal origin. By contrast, there is limited clinical experience regarding the use of IT baclofen in treating patients with dystonia, and little is known regarding the indications for treatment, efficacy, and safety of IT baclofen in this disorder. Objective: To study retrospectively the effects of IT baclofen in treating 25 patients with severe segmental or generalized dystonia. Setting: Neurological Institute, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, NY. Patients: Twenty-five patients with severe segmental or generalized dystonia that was refractory to oral medications underwent IT baclofen test dosing. In addition to dystonia, 17 patients had spasticity or painful spasms. Thirteen of 25 patients responded to the test doses of IT baclofen, according to unblinded neurological assessments that included the patient's subjective report; all 13 underwent implantation of a pump for continuous IT baclofen infusion. Results: In contrast to reports of patients with spasticity of spinal origin, those with dystonia in the present series had a lower response rate to bolus IT baclofen doses and a smaller degree of clinical improvement. For 10 of the 13 responders to the test doses of IT baclofen, dystonia rating scale scores of videotaped examinations by blinded observers detected no significant change (P<.07) in severity of dystonia. Retrospective data from 11 of 13 patients with implantable pumps, followed up for a mean interval of 21 months after pump insertion, showed continuing efficacy in 6 individuals (55%), based on a determination of patient satisfaction; however, only 3 patients (27%) reported a sustained improvement in functional capacity. Five (38%) of the 13 patients with implantable pumps experienced severe complications that required hospitalization. Conclusions: Despite recent reports that have described the benefit in small numbers of patients with dystonia, we concluded that the role of IT baclofen in treating severe dystonia remains uncertain. Intrathecal baclofen may be more effective when dystonia is associated with spasticity or pain. In the present series, we detected no significant difference in the response to IT baclofen in patients with or without spasticity or pain, perhaps owing to the small sample size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1241-1246
Number of pages6
JournalArchives of neurology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Neurology


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