Spasmodic Dysphonia

Spasmodic dysphonia -- also known as laryngeal dystonia -- is a voice disorder that affects the muscles of the larynx. Spasmodic dysphonia is a neurologic condition characterized by abnormal involuntary movements of the vocal cords during speech. This abnormal sudden and intermittent vocal muscle tightening results in very breathy or even strangled voice quality. 

In adductor spasmodic dysphonia, the muscles tighten or close and cause a strained/strangled voice during speech. In abductorspasmodic dysphonia, the muscles open suddenly and cause an abnormal breathy quality or voice stoppage during speech. Spasmodic dysphonia can be severe enough to make verbal communication impossible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes spasmodic dysphonia?

Although the general medical consensus is that spasmodic dysphonia is a neurologic condition, its exact cause or origin is not known. Sudden abnormal vocal muscle contractions during speech are believed to be due to abnormal functioning in the area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which helps coordinate movements of the muscles throughout the body.

Is voice rehabilitation effective for spasmodic dysphonia?

Voice rehabilitation is not effective as a restorative treatment. It may have some palliative effect.

What is the incidence of spasmodic dysphonia?

SD occurs primarily in the 4th or 5th decade of life with women presenting with this disorder 1 1/2 to 3 times as often as men.

How successful are botulinum toxin injections in treating spasmodic dysphonia?

Botulinum toxin injections for adductor SD is successful in restoring the voice to normal use in 95 percent of patients for 12 - 20 weeks.

Can surgery be used to restore normal phonation in patients with spasmodic dysphonia?

Several surgical techniques have been used successfully in 40-70 percent of adductor spasmodic dysphonia patients.

Are some forms of spasmodic dysphonia a primary psychiatric problem?

No. If symptoms of voice tightening or vocal muscle spasms are significantly resolved with medication or psychiatric/behavioral treatment, then SD was not the correct medical diagnosis.

Did You Know?

  • Fifty to 70,000 Americans have spasmodic dysphonia.
  • Botulinum toxin injection is the preferred medical treatment for adductor spasmodic dysphonia.
  • Familial voice tremor or psychogenic muscle tension dysphonia is often misdiagnosed as spasmodic dysphonia.
  • The vocal muscle spasms in SD are only induced by speech.


NIDCD - Spasmodic Dysphonia

What is Spasmodic Dysphonia?