Objective: To characterise swallowing function in patients with cervical dystonia with botulinum toxin treatment failure, before and after selective peripheral denervation surgery.
Methods: Twelve patients with cervical dystonia had a thorough examination including standardised assessment for cervical dystonia, scoring of subjective dysphagia, and videofluoroscopic swallow. Videofluoroscopy was scored by consensus opinion between a speech and language therapist and an independent blinded radiologist using a validated scoring system.
Results: Seven patients with cervical dystonia experienced no subjective dysphagia either before or after surgery, although in all these patients there was objective videofluoroscopic evidence of underlying mild to moderate oropharyngeal dysphagia preoperatively and postoperatively. The most common finding was delayed initiation of swallow. Three other patients, also without subjective dysphagia before surgery, developed postoperative dysphagia. In these patients, videofluoroscopy showed a delayed swallow reflex before surgery, which was worse postoperatively in two. The remaining two patients had mild subjective dysphagia before surgery that improved postoperatively in one and deteriorated in the other. In the first, videofluoroscopy was normal preoperatively and postoperatively, and in the second, oral bolus preparation was moderately abnormal preoperatively and swallow initiation was delayed postoperatively. Mean subjective dysphagia scores did not change significantly. Apart from a significant improvement of tongue base retraction, videofluoroscopic scores were not significantly different after surgery. Postoperatively there was significant improvement of overall cervical dystonia severity and abnormal head rotation in the group as a whole. There was no correlation between age, duration of symptoms of cervical dystonia, preoperative or postoperative cervical dystonia severity, subjective dysphagia scores, or videofluoroscopic scores. However, in the five patients with persisting anterior sagittal head shift as part of the torticollis, tongue base retraction was less likely to improve after surgery compared with those without head shift.
Conclusion: Surgical denervation of dystonic neck muscles, leading to improved neck posture, can also improve tongue base retraction, which is a key component of normal bolus propagation. However, delayed swallow initiation, a common feature in patients with cervical dystonia, can be further compromised by surgery, leading to subjective dysphagia. In general, selective peripheral denervation seems to be a safe procedure with no major compromise of swallowing function.