What is Dystonia?
Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably. The contraction causes the affected body part to twist involuntarily, resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. Dystonia can affect one muscle, a muscle group, or the entire body.
How common is Dystonia?
Dystonia affects about 1% of the population, and women are more prone to it than men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Dystonia?
Symptoms of dystonia can range from very mild to severe. Dystonia can affect different body parts, and often the symptoms of dystonia progress through stages. Some early symptoms include:
- A “dragging leg”
- Cramping of the foot
- Involuntary pulling of the neck
- Uncontrollable blinking
- Speech difficulties
Stress or fatigue may bring on the symptoms or cause them to worsen. People with dystonia often complain of pain and exhaustion because of the constant muscle contractions.
If dystonia symptoms occur in childhood, they generally appear first in the foot or hand. But then they quickly progress to the rest of the body. After adolescence, though, the progression rate tends to slow down.
When dystonia appears in early adulthood, it typically begins in the upper body. Then there is a slow progression of symptoms. Dystonias that start in early adulthood remain focal or segmental: They affect either one part of the body or two or more adjacent body parts.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Dystonia?
The exact cause of dystonia isn’t known. But it might involve altered nerve-cell communication in several regions of the brain. Some forms of dystonia are inherited.
Dystonia also can be a symptom of another disease or condition, including:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Wilson’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Birth injury
- Brain tumor or certain disorders that develop in some people with cancer (paraneoplastic syndromes)
- Oxygen deprivation or carbon monoxide poisoning
- Infections, such as tuberculosis or encephalitis
- Reactions to certain medications or heavy metal poisoning
What increases my risk for Dystonia?
There are many risk factors for Dystonia, such as:
- Genetic predisposition
- Injury to your brain or nervous system
- Taking certain medicines (such as neuroleptics)
- Infections (viral, bacterial, or fungal)
- Poisoning (such as lead)
- Performing highly precise hand movements (such as musicians, artists, engineers)
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Dystonia diagnosed?
To diagnose dystonia, your doctor will start with a medical history and physical examination. To determine if underlying conditions are causing your symptoms, your doctor might recommend:
- Blood or urine tests. These tests can reveal signs of toxins or of other conditions.
- MRI or CT scan. These imaging tests can identify abnormalities in your brain, such as tumors, lesions or evidence of a stroke.
- Electromyography (EMG). This test measures the electrical activity within muscles.
How is Dystonia treated?
To manage your muscle contractions, your doctor might recommend a combination of medications, therapy or surgery.
Injections of onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) into specific muscles might reduce or eliminate your muscle contractions and improve your abnormal postures. Injections are usually repeated every three to four months.
Side effects are generally mild and temporary. They can include weakness, dry mouth or voice changes.
Other medications target chemicals in your brain (neurotransmitters) that affect muscle movement. The options include:
- Carbidopa-levodopa (Duopa, Rytary, others). This medication can increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
- Trihexyphenidyl and benztropine (Cogentin). These medications act on neurotransmitters other than dopamine. Side effects can include memory loss, blurred vision, drowsiness, dry mouth and constipation.
- Tetrabenazine (Austedo, Xenazine). This medication blocks dopamine. Side effects can include sedation, nervousness, depression or insomnia.
- Diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin) and baclofen (Lioresal, Gablofen). These medications reduce neurotransmission and might help some forms of dystonia. They may cause side effects, such as drowsiness.
Your doctor might suggest:
- Physical therapy or occupational therapy or both to help ease symptoms and improve function
- Speech therapy if dystonia affects your voice
- Stretching or massage to ease muscle pain
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor might recommend:
- Deep brain stimulation. Electrodes are surgically implanted into a specific part of your brain and connected to a generator implanted in your chest. The generator sends electrical pulses to your brain that might help control your muscle contractions. The settings on the generator can be adjusted to treat your specific condition.
- Selective denervation surgery. This procedure, which involves cutting the nerves that control muscle spasms, might be an option to treat some types of dystonia that haven’t been successfully treated using other therapies.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Dystonia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Dystonia:
- Sensory tricks to reduce spasms. Touching certain parts of your body may cause spasms to stop temporarily.
- Heat or cold. Applying heat or cold can help ease muscle pain.
- Stress management. Learn effective coping skills to manage stress, such as deep breathing, social support and positive self-talk.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Dystonia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dystonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20350480. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Dystonia: Causes, Types, Symptoms, and Treatments. https://www.webmd.com/brain/dystonia-causes-types-symptoms-and-treatments#1. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Dystonia. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134&contentid=31. Accessed August 10, 2018.
Review Date: August 24, 2018 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019