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Antipsychotic Drug May Help Stuttering

By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Annie Finnegan

Aug. 22, 2000 -- When Gerald Maguire was a youngster, the other children laughed at him, not because of his looks or the way he dressed, but because he stuttered. For a long time, Maguire says, his speech disorder held him back.

"I avoided using the telephone for probably three to four years, throughout high school and the beginning of college," he says. "I didn't go out on many dates since it was difficult to call somebody and introduce yourself."

Today, as a psychiatry professor at the University of California at Irvine, Maguire is investigating whether the antipsychotic drug Risperdal -- now used to treat schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome and other psychiatric disorders -- can help people like himself. "So far, our results have been very good," Maguire tells WebMD. The study appears in the August edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

It's estimated that as many as one in 10 people stutter. The National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says the most common form of stuttering is thought to be developmental, occurring in children while their speech and language skills are developing. Children usually outgrow this type of stuttering.

Another type stems from a disorder in which signal problems arise between the brain and the nerves or muscles. In this type, called neurogenic stuttering, it's thought that the brain is unable to adequately coordinate the different components of the speech mechanism. It may also occur after a stroke or other type of brain injury.

While in medical school, Maguire discovered there was very little medical literature on stuttering. But when he started reading about other disorders, including Tourette syndrome -- in which a person involuntarily shouts out words, often profanities -- he noticed that the syndrome bore similarities to a stuttering disorder: Both begin in childhood, and are more common in boys than girls. But the medications used to treat Tourette syndromes and similar maladies, such as Haldol, were very strong and had serious side effects.

Then Risperdal came on the market a few years ago to treat schizophrenia. When it was touted as safer and more tolerable than Haldol, Maguire began taking it himself. "I felt a little tired at first, but my speech, I felt, was getting more fluent, that something was clicking in my brain."

As a result, Maguire conducted a study involving 12 men and 4 women with the developmental form of stuttering, ranging in age from 20 to 74. To be eligible, participants had to have started stuttering before age 6, still stuttering on at least 3% of their syllables. They also could not be undergoing speech therapy for their stuttering. Some of the participants were given Risperdal; others took a placebo.

Those study participants who took Risperdal were started on half a milligram nightly, with the dosage then increased to a maximum of 2 milligrams. "We used doses one-twelfth to one-third the typical dose used for schizophrenia," says Maguire.

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