Cervical Dystonia is All in Your Head—Now Here’s How to Fix it

There’s a famous line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when (*SPOILER ALERT*) Harry talks with Ghost Dumbledore for the last time.

Trapped in a disturbing posthumous landscape, about to return to life, Harry asks his beloved mentor if any of this was real or all in his head. The response?

“Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean that it’s not real?”

Here’s where the world of magic collides with the world of rare disease.

Dumbledore speaking to Harry Potter
Wiser words have never been told Dumbledore. Source: Tumblr

Many people suffering from a rare disease have been dismissed at least once in their lives as having a mental illness–that their symptoms are “all in their heads.”

Funnily enough, while it’s not right,  it’s also not completely wrong.

Whether from treatment, trauma, or stress, many rare diseases DO come with the co-morbidity of depression and many rare disease ARE in our heads… specifically, in our brains.

None of this makes anyone’s condition(s) less real, but it does offer up interesting pathways between mental illness and rare disease. And one researcher says these pathways are positive.

According to this article detailing her research, Sarah Pirio Richardson, MD, of The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, believes a breakthrough depression treatment can one day be an attractive option for cervical dystonia.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a polarizing therapy currently approved for depression. Often confused with the controversial electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and along similar lines as deep brain stimulation, TMS uses an electromagnetic coil, but in a completely innovative way.

Unlike surgery and more invasive brain stimulation methods, the coils in TMS stay firmly outside the head, conducting pulsing magnetic fields. These pulses zip through the brain and within almost no time at all, they can drastically alter the brain’s electrical impulses.

Pirio Richardson, along with her colleagues, have begun exploring a similar method for people with cervical dystonia, aiming the stimulation at parts of the brain responsible for movement.

Results have been promising.

As of the pilot study, participants not only see benefits, but there seems to be a long-term change for the better.

All thanks to a 15 minute treatment.

Pirio Richardson is looking to expand her research into a larger patient population with the hope that, soon, TMS will become FDA-approved for cervical dystonia.

Wouldn’t that be magical?

Sure it’s not quite the care you’d get at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, but Pirio Richardson’s TMS results spell a real success for the dystonia community.

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