Dystonia is a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which force the body into repetitive or twisting movements. The condition, which is associated with fixed postures, can take several forms, affecting only one muscle, a group of muscles, one side of the body or the whole body.
Symptoms differ depending on the type of dystonia you have and the region of the body it is affecting. Early signs might be a “dragging” leg, foot cramping, involuntary neck pulling, uncontrollable blinking, or difficulties speaking or swallowing.
The cause of dystonia is not yet known; it may be idiopathic, genetic or acquired. Dystonia may result from damage or abnormality in the part of the brain that controls movement. It may also be a result of a medication or a symptom of another condition.
The first step to living better is the right diagnosis. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications, non-medical treatments or suggest alternative therapies.
Depending on what your doctors have seen or observed, they may decide to take a blood or urine testing for more information. Imaging tests such as MRI or CT scan of the brain may be useful in establishing your diagnosis.
Another test, called electromyography (EMG), may be performed. This test measures electrical activity within your muscles and nerves and can provide information about the cause of your symptoms.
While there is no cure for dystonia, there are several treatments available to help manage your symptoms.
- Botox® is often very effective for dystonia when one muscle or one region of the body is affected. These injections may reduce or eliminate muscle contractions at the site.
- Medicines that target neurotransmitters — the signaling chemicals in the brain — can also relieve symptoms of dystonia.
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are often helpful in easing symptoms of dystonia.
- Stress management, massage, and biofeedback may also be helpful.
In some cases, when patients don’t find relief with other treatments, surgery may be indicated. Surgical options include deep brain stimulation (DBS) and other procedures focused on reducing muscle spasms.