What is dystonia?
"Dys" means bad or not normal. "Tonia" refers to muscle tension or tone. So dystonia is abnormal muscle tone. Your muscles tighten up without you wanting them to.
The abnormal muscle tone of dystonia usually results in muscle cramping. A cramp is a sudden painful muscle contraction (spasm) that you can't control. Muscle cramps may happen more and more over time and force your body into an odd or twisted position.
At first, muscle spasms come and go, so you may blink your eyes, grind your jaw, move your arms, or make other motions
Later, the affected muscles may stay in spasm so part of your body is stuck in one position
Dystonia happens when there's overactivity in the parts of your brain that control your muscles
Dystonia can be inherited or caused by brain disorders or by some medicines
Doctors will treat the cause of your dystonia and may prescribe pills or injections to help relax your muscles
What causes dystonia?
Dystonia is caused by:
Overactivity in the parts of your brain that control your muscles
This overactivity can happen because of:
A problem with a gene you inherit from your parents
Brain disorders such as cerebral palsy Cerebral Palsy Cerebrum (cerebral) is a medical word for the large part of the brain that controls muscles. Palsy is a problem moving muscles. CP is a brain condition that affects the muscles. It makes muscles... read more , multiple sclerosis Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Sclerosis means scarring. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that causes multiple scars on nerves in your brain and spinal cord. These scars keep the nerves from working properly. You may have... read more , or a stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. Part of your brain stops getting blood. Brain tissue that doesn't... read more
What are the symptoms of dystonia?
The main symptom is:
A long-lasting muscle cramp
At first the muscle cramp happens only once in a while or during stress. Over time, the muscle cramp happens more often and lasts longer. The cramping body part may stay in a specific, sometimes painful, position. This can cause disability.
Dystonia can happen in your:
Eyelid, usually starting as extra blinking, eye discomfort, or extreme sensitivity to bright light
Neck muscles, causing a twisted, painful neck ("wry neck")
Vocal cords, causing changes in your ability to speak or the quality of your voice
Face muscles, which may include uncontrolled blinking, jaw grinding, and odd facial expressions
Any muscle you overuse—for example, the fingers of a professional pianist
How can doctors tell if I have dystonia?
Doctors diagnose dystonia based on your symptoms and a physical exam. There are no tests for dystonia, but doctors may look to see if you have a brain disorder by doing:
How do doctors treat dystonia?
Doctors will treat the cause of your dystonia if they can. Other treatments include:
Medicines, including nerve-blocking medicines and mild sedatives (medicine to relax your body and help you sleep)
Botulinum toxin shots (Botox®) into the stiff muscle, which will relax it
Sometimes deep brain stimulation (small electrodes placed in your brain to ease repeated muscle cramps)