Dystonia is a movement disorder in which your muscles contract involuntarily, causing repetitive or twisting movements. This disorder is a complex, highly variable neurological movement disorder that affects as many as 250,000 people in the United States, making it the third most common movement disorder behind essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease.
Dystonia can affect one part of your body (focal dystonia), two or more adjacent parts (segmental dystonia) or all parts of your body (general dystonia), and symptoms can range from mild to severe. While there is no cure for dystonia, there are treatments available, including medications and sometimes surgery.
Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions. Dystonia affects all types of people—it can affect young children to older adults of all races and ethnicities.
Though the exact cause is unknown, dystonia results from abnormal functioning of the basal ganglia, a deep region of the brain which helps control coordination of movement.
Dystonia affects different people in a variety of ways. The muscle contractions that characterize the disorder may:
Dystonia can also affect different areas of the body:
Dystonia can often be misdiagnosed as stress, stiff neck, or a psychological disorder. To check for the disorder, your doctor will perform a series of tests including genetic testing, and testing blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid. They may also perform an EEG (electroencephalography) or EMG (electromyography) and test for other health conditions. Additionally, a physician and dystonia specialist may observe the symptoms in a patient to diagnose the disorder.
To manage your dystonia symptoms, your doctor may recommend a combination of medications, therapy, or surgery.
One of the most common treatments used to treat dystonia is Botulinum toxin type B (botox injections). This, along with other medications, can help control muscle movements and postures. Injections are usually repeated every three to four months. Type B has a few mild to moderate side effects such as dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and indigestion.
Other medications target chemicals in your brain (neurotransmitters) that affect muscle movement. These include:
For dystonia, your doctor may recommend:
Another way to treat dystonia is using a technique called deep brain stimulation (DBS). This involves implanting small electrodes into specific brain regions. The electrodes send minimal levels of electricity to the region that causes dystonia in order to block what causes the symptoms.
Selective denervation surgery, which involves cutting the nerves that control muscle spasms, may also be an option for dystonia that has not been responsive to other types of treatments.
As with any disease or disorder, the sooner you can get treated the sooner you may be able to live without symptoms. Dystonia is no exception. A physician will be able to determine whether you have dystonia and offer the best prognosis for your form of dystonia. If you think you have symptoms of dystonia, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.