Spasmodic Dysphonia: When No Words Come Out

What if you tried to speak -- and choked on your own words?

ByABC News
July 30, 2008, 11:21 AM

Aug. 16, 2008— -- Scott Adams is the cartoonist who gives Dilbert a voice -- a gift he wishes he could give himself.

"It feels like you're being strangled from the inside out," he told ABC News' David Muir.

That's right -- strangled. Adams said he literally chokes on his own words. It's a strange and isolating condition that began after what seemed like normal laryngitis.

"I couldn't talk normally for over a year," Adams said. "I still don't talk normally."

National Public Radio host Diane Rehm has been stricken with the bewildering condition as well.

"I was sounding so bad," she said, "I thought they must be thinking, 'What is this woman doing on the air?'"

And the radio host and cartoonist are not alone. Ken Michaels' voice is vanishing also. His wife, Raychene, said his voice sounds tremendously different.

All three say they've spent years searching for an answer and a cure. For nearly a century, the medical consensus was that this type of mysterious loss of voice was psychological. Doctors believed people suffering from it, for some reason, didn't want to talk.

But Michaels and the others say they'd do anything to speak normally again. "Primetime" traveled with Michaels as he visited Dr. Paul Flint, who finally gave him a correct diagnosis.

"It was obvious when he came in that he had spasmodic dysphonia," Flint said.

About 30,000 Americans suffer from this condition, also known as "strangled voice." Doctors believe it's caused when part of the brain misfires-- the same part that causes Parkinson's disease.

"Spasmodic dysphonia is a neurological condition that affects a patient's voice," Flint explained, "and it does so by creating abnormal tension within the throat muscles when they're trying to speak."

For Michaels, it was a great relief to finally know what was wrong with his voice. But not all the news he heard was good. Flint told him spasmodic dysphonia is manageable, but incurable. And the way he recommends treating it? Of all things -- Botox.