Dystonia

Neuro-DysoniaDystonia is a movement disorder in which a person’s muscles spontaneously contract, causing the affected body part to twist involuntarily and resulting in repetitive movements or abnormal postures. It can affect one muscle, a muscle group, or the entire body. This condition occurs infrequently, affecting about 1 percent of the population. Women are more prone to developing dystonia than men.

Most cases of dystonia do not have a specific cause, but seem to be related to a problem in the basal ganglia of the brain, the area of the brain responsible for refining movement. Dystonia is a disorder in the way the nerve cells within the brain communicate.

Idiopathic or primary dystonia can be inherited or sporadic. Some people are carriers of the disorder without developing dystonia themselves and symptoms may vary widely among members of the same family with dystonia. Acquired dystonia is caused by damage to the basal ganglia due to brain trauma, stroke, tumor, oxygen deprivation, infection, drug reactions, lead poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning or due to diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Wilson’s.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of dystonia can range from very mild to severe and can affect different parts of the body. Often symptoms progress through stages. Typical early symptoms can include"

  • “dragging leg"
  • foot cramping
  • involuntary pulling of the neck
  • uncontrollable blinking
  • speech difficulties

Dystonia starting in childhood

Dystonia symptoms that start in childhood generally appear first in the foot or hand and then progress to the rest of the body. After adolescence the progression rate tends to slow down.

Dystonia in early adulthood

Dystonia typically begins in the upper body, then slowly progresses and remains focal or segmental, meaning it affects either one body part or two or more adjacent body parts.

Dystonias can be classified by age distribution and course:

  • generalized dystonia
  • focal dystonia
  • segmental dystonia
  • multi-focal dystonia
  • hemi dystonia

Dystonia can also be classified as syndromes based on specific causes or patterns:

  • cervical dystonia 
  • blepharospasm dystonia
  • cranial dystonia
  • oromandibular dystonia
  • spasmodic dystonia
  • tardive dystonia
  • paroxysmal dystonia
  • generalized dystonia
  • writer’s cramp

Treating dystonia 

Symptoms of dystonia can range from very mild to severe and can affect different parts of the body. Often symptoms progress through stages. Typical early symptoms can include a “dragging leg,” foot cramping, involuntary pulling of the neck, uncontrollable blinking or speech difficulties. Dystonia can’t be cured, but treatment options are available to improve some of the symptoms.

Common medications prescribed to treat dystonia

  • botulinum toxin (Botox) injections
  • oral medications
  • speech therapy, physical therapy, biofeedback and stress management
  • deep brain stimulation surgery