Dystonia is a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause twisting and repetitive movements. These movements can sometimes be painful and may affect one or numerous muscles in the arms, legs, neck, or entire body. Some cases of dystonia are caused by other underlying conditions, while others have no connection to another disease or injury. Symptoms of dystonia may range in severity and may affect daily activities.

Symptoms of Dystonia

Dystonia can affect many parts of the body or be localized to a specific muscle group or body area. Early symptoms may include foot cramps or foot dragging after physical activity. Another symptom of dystonia is deterioration of handwriting, and a sudden decrease in quality of penmanship is widely acknowledged as an early sign of dystonia. Additional symptoms of dystonia may include:

  • Frequent and severe muscle cramping
  • Rapid blinking of the eyelids
  • Trembling diaphragm
  • Voice tremor
  • Speech difficulties
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Teeth grinding

Symptoms of dystonia may may become more noticeable over time and may worsen with stress, anxiety, or fatigue.

Causes of Dystonia

The exact cause of dystonia is unknown, however, research indicates that it is caused by a problem in the part of the brain that sends messages to the nerves that initiate muscle contractions. In some cases, dystonia may be inherited. Other symptoms of dystonia are caused by underlying medical conditions that may include:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Huntington's disease
  • Stroke
  • Wilson's disease
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Infection
  • Oxygen deprivation

Dystonia may also be the result of exposure to certain toxins or a reaction to certain medications.

Treatment of Dystonia

There is no specific treatment for dystonia that is effective for all patients. Treatment focuses on decreasing muscle spasms and reducing pain. Medication to control muscle spasms may be prescribed and some patients find relief through Botox injections in specific muscles that help to temporarily eliminate muscle contractions. Additional treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Deep brain stimulation

In severe cases, surgery may be recommended, however risks of surgery may include damage to the nervous system. Patients with dystonia may also benefit from more holistic approaches including mediation and acupuncture.

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