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Dystonia facts*

*Dystonia facts medically edited by: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

  • Dystonia is a disorder of muscle control; it can cause slow repetitive movements, abnormal postures and/or tremors of the musculature that are uncontrollable by the patient.
  • The symptoms of dystonia may include foot cramps, turning or dragging of the foot, worsening of handwriting, neck movements, rapid eye blinking or closing, various muscle tremors and sometimes difficulty with speaking; the symptoms may become more noticeable when the individual is tired or under stress.
  • The cause of dystonia is not known; researchers suspect that damage to the brain's basal ganglia or other regions that control movement and/or the brain's neurotransmitters; researchers divide dystonia into three groups - idiopathic, genetic and acquired.
  • Symptoms of dystonia can occur at any age but are often described as either childhood or early onset versus adult-onset with early onset beginning with symptoms in the limbs while adult onset usually begins in the neck and/or face; these symptoms often progress from intermittent to more frequent or fixed postures that can result in shortening of tendons.
  • Dystonia may be classified based on the regions of the body which are affected; in addition, they can be described as focal (localized to a specific area such as the neck) or as genetic forms that may start as focal then progress to other areas.
  • Currently, there are no medications to prevent or slow the progression of any dystonia; however, there are several drugs that can reduce the symptoms of dystonia (botulinum toxin, anticholinergic agents, benzodiazepines and dopaminergic agents) and other methods such as deep brain stimulation and/or physical therapy.
  • Researchers are still investigating what causes dystonia and are exploring ways to better treat dystonia with medications and/or surgery; genetic studies are ongoing to help understand the cause and provide ways to better treat genetically caused dystonia.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The movements may be painful, and some individuals with dystonia may have a tremor or other neurologic features. There are several different forms of dystonia that may affect only one muscle, groups of muscles, or muscles throughout the body. Some forms of dystonia are genetic but the cause for the majority of cases is not known.


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