People with dystonia have involuntary muscle contractions that
cause slow and repetitive movements. These movements can:
- cause twisting motions in one or more parts of your
- cause you to adopt abnormal postures
The most commonly affected body parts include your head, neck,
trunk, and limbs. While dystonia can be mild, it can also be severe enough to
affect your quality of life.
Symptoms of Dystonia
Dystonia can affect you in different ways. Muscle contractions can:
- start in one area, such as your arm, leg, or
- happen during a specific action, such as
- get worse when you feel tired, stressed, or
- become more noticeable over time
Types of Dystonia
There are three main categories of dystonia:
- Focal: This is the most common type
of dystonia. It affects just one part of your body.
- Generalized: This type affects the majority of your
body, or your entire body.
- Segmental: This type affects two or more nearby
parts of your body.
What Causes Dystonia?
The exact cause of dystonia is unknown. However, doctors believe
that certain medical conditions, genetics, or brain damage may be linked to
Certain medical conditions that affect your brain and nerve
function are associated with dystonia. These conditions include:
- cerebral palsy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Wilson’s disease
- brain injury
- brain tumor
- brain injury during birth
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- heavy metal poisoning
Other factors known or believed to cause uncontrolled muscle
- side effects or reactions to certain antipsychotic
- lack of oxygen in your tissues and organs
- inherited genes or genetic changes
- disrupted communication between nerve cells in your
How Is Dystonia Diagnosed?
In many cases, dystonia is an ongoing symptom that may remain
stable over time. You should see your doctor if:
- there’s no clear explanation for your dystonia
- your symptoms become worse over time
- you’re experiencing other symptoms in addition
Before Your Doctor’s Visit
It may be helpful to take a few notes about your symptoms,
- when the uncontrolled movements began
- if the movements are constant
- if the movements get worse at certain times
For example, symptoms may flare up only after strenuous exercise.
You should also find out if you have a history of dystonia in your family.
During Your Doctor’s Visit
Your doctor will likely take a thorough health history and
perform a detailed physical exam. They will focus on your muscle and nerve
function. They’ll note your:
- medication history
- recent illnesses
- past and recent injuries
- recent stressful events
Your doctor may ask you to see a neurologist to diagnose the
underlying cause of your condition. Your doctor or specialist may perform tests
to help make a diagnosis, including:
- blood or urine tests
- computed tomography (CT) scan
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- electromyogram (EMG)
- electro encephalogram (EEG)
- spinal tap
- genetic studies
How Is Dystonia Treated?
There is no cure for dystonia. However, certain medications can
help manage your symptoms.
Botulinum Toxin Type A (Botox) Injections
Botox injections into targeted muscle groups can help ease your
muscle contractions. You must receive the injections every three months. Side
effects include fatigue, dry mouth, and changes in your voice.
Medications that affect the neurotransmitter called dopamine may
also improve your symptoms. Dopamine controls your brain’s pleasure centers and
Massage, heat treatment, and low-impact exercises may help manage
Research on alternative treatments for dystonia is limited. Some
people have found relief by practicing certain alternative therapies, such as:
- acupuncture: an ancient practice that inserts
small, thin needles into various points on your body for pain relief.
- yoga: exercise that combines gentle stretching
movements with deep breathing and meditation.
- biofeedback: electrical sensors that monitor
your body functions and identify ways to control your muscle tension and blood
Are There Any Complications Related to Dystonia?
Severe dystonia can cause a number of complications, such as:
- physical deformities, which may become permanent
- varying levels of physical disability
- abnormal positioning of your head
- problems swallowing
- difficulty with speech
- issues with jaw movement
Even though there’s no cure for dystonia, there are treatment
options to help you manage your symptoms. Speak with your doctor about your risk
of developing complications. You may have to try a few treatments, but there
are steps you can take to start managing your dystonia.