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Dystonia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a person experiences muscles contraction involuntarily leading to twisting and repetitive movements. When it affects any particular part of your body then it is known as focal dystonia. When it affects two or more parts of your body then it is known as segmental dystonia. When it affects all parts of your body then it is known as general dystonia. The condition of dystonia can occur due to many causes including deprivation of oxygen, Huntington's disease, and medicines. This problem can be mild or severe. Sometimes it can affect the day-to-day activities. Your doctor may ask you to get some imaging tests and other tests done to diagnose dystonia. If you have severe dystonia then your doctor may recommend you to go for a surgery in order to regulate or disable nerves or certain regions of the brain. It is not possible to cure this condition but treatment can help up to some extent. The treatment options include medicines, physical therapy, and surgery. It can affect a person of any age group though it is more common in people between the age group of 40 - 60 years.

Symptoms of Dystonia:

You may experience mild or severe symptoms of dystonia. It can affect only one part or all parts of the body. The symptoms vary from person to person depending on the type of dystonia.

Check out some of the early symptoms or signs of dystonia:

  • You may experience cramps in the foot.
  • You may face a difficulty in speaking.
  • It can lead to uncontrollable blinking.
  • A dragging leg is also a symptom of dystonia.
  • Dystonia may cause pulling of the neck involuntarily.
  • It generally occurs when you perform a specific action including handwriting.

The symptoms can get worse due to anxiety, fatigue or stress. People generally notice the symptoms with time. Exhaustion and pain are the common problems for people with dystonia due to regular muscle contractions. The symptoms are firstly experienced in the hand or foot when this problem occurs in childhood. The symptoms reach to other body parts quickly. The rate of progression slows down after adolescence. This condition begins in the upper body when it occurs in early adulthood. Then the rate of progression of symptoms slows down. This problem is generally segmental or focal when it occurs in early adulthood. one should go for doctor consultation before taking medications.

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Causes of Dystonia:

The basal ganglia, the region of the brain which is responsible for starting muscle contractions. It seems that the problem of dystonia is associated with the basal ganglia. Due to the damage to the basal ganglia, dystonia occurs.

The damage to the basal ganglia can occur due to various reasons including:

  • Due to the reaction of drugs.
  • Brain trauma, tumor, and stroke are some of the reasons that can lead to damage to the basal ganglia causing dystonia.
  • Carbon monoxide or lead can cause poisoning leading to the basal ganglia damage.
  • Oxygen deprivation can cause damage to the basal ganglia.
  • Infection is also a reason for damage to the basal ganglia.

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How Dystonia is diagnosed?

You should reach out to the doctor as soon as you discover the symptoms of dystonia. In order to diagnose dystonia, a visual examination of the physical symptoms or signs is required. Your doctor may ask you some of the questions in order to know that you have primary dystonia or secondary dystonia. The questions are generally related to family and medical history of the patient. Your doctor may ask you to get some tests done to know the type of dystonia. Check out various tests that are required to determine the type of dystonia:

  • CT or MRI scan: Your doctor may ask you to get the CT or MRI test done to reveal the abnormalities in the brain including lesions, a stroke evidence, and a tumor.
  • Urine or blood tests: These tests are conducted by the doctor to check the presence of infections or toxins. They also help to check the functioning of the organ including liver.
  • Genetic test: A genetic test is done to check for mutated and abnormal genes. This test also helps to find out other medical conditions associated with dystonia including Huntington's disease.
  • Electromyography (EMG): Electromyography is conducted to check the electrical activity of muscles.

Prevention from Dystonia:

It is not possible to prevent the condition of dystonia. Though, scientists are looking for various ways that can help to get prevention from dystonia. The studies are going on inherited types of dystonia. In order to prevent secondary types of dystonia, you should adopt healthy habits in your lifestyle. The healthy lifestyle habits include:

  • You should avoid exposure to harmful toxins or drugs.
  • You should follow various ways that help to prevent a stroke including:
  • You should have a balanced and healthy diet.
  • You should avoid smoking.
  • You should reduce or avoid the consumption of alcohol.
  • You should do physical exercises regularly.
  • You should maintain a healthy weight.

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Treatment of Dystonia:

The treatment options that are available for treating dystonia are medicines, physical therapy, and surgery.

  • Medication: In order to improve the abnormal posture and minimise or eliminate the muscle contractions, botulinum toxin can be injected into some muscles. Injections are generally given in the repetition every 3 - 4 months. Sometimes it can lead to temporary and mild side effects. The side effects include dry mouth, vice changes, and weakness in the neck. There are some other medicines that are used to signal chemicals in the brain which affect the movement of muscles. These medicines include:
  • Tetrabenazine (Xenazine): This medication is used to block dopamine. The intake of this medication can lead to side effects including insomnia, depression, sedation, and nervousness.
  • Carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet, Parcopa): To increase the neurotransmitter dopamine levels, the combination of this medication can be prescribed.
  • Baclofen (Lioresal), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium): To reduce neurotransmission, these medications are prescribed by the doctor. These medications can help in some types of dystonia. Though, they may cause some side effects including drowsiness.
  • Benztropine, trihexyphenidyl: Benztropine, trihexyphenidyl work on other neurotransmitters. Blurred vision, constipation, memory loss, dry mouth, and drowsiness are some of the side effects associated with these medications.
  • Therapy: There are some therapies that are used for treating dystonia. If dystonia has affected the voice then speech therapy will be prescribed. Physical therapy is done to provide the relief from the symptoms. Massage or stretching is done to give comfort from the muscle pain. Sensory tricks can be used to reduce the muscle contractions in which the affected body part is touched.
  • Surgery: Your doctor may recommend you to go for a surgery if your symptoms are severe.
  • Selective denervation surgery: The nerves controlling muscle spasms are cut during this procedure. This treatment option can be used to treat some types of dystonia that do not resolve from other therapies available.
  • Deep brain stimulation: In this procedure, electrodes are placed into a specific area of the brain with the help of a surgery and well-connected to a generator placed in the chest. The generator is used to send the electrical pulses to the brain to control the muscle contractions. The specific condition of the patient can be treated by adjusting the settings on the generator.

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Dystonia Complications:

There are many complications associated with dystonia. The complications depend on the type of dystonia. Sometimes, it can lead to functional blindness which can affect the eyelids of the patient. People may face a difficulty in speaking, swallowing and jaw movement. The constant muscle contractions can cause fatigue and pain.

Myths related to Dystonia:

Check out some of the common myths about dystonia:

Myth #1: Dystonia is an acquired neuromuscular disorder.

Fact: Dystonia is a movement disorder in which a person experiences muscles contraction involuntarily causing twisting and repetitive movements. Most of the cases of dystonia are primary dystonia. But some people may suffer from dystonia due to secondary causes including Parkinson's disease, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis. So it is a misconception that dystonia is an acquired neuromuscular disorder.

Myth #2: For treating dystonia, skeletal muscle relaxants are used.

Fact: the treatment that is prescribed by the doctor depends on the type and origin of dystonia. By stop continuing offending medicines and administering benzodiazepines or anticholinergics, severe secondary dystonia can be treated that occurred due to neuroleptic agents. Drugs including levodopa-carbidopa and botulinum toxin injections can be used to treat primary dystonia.

Conclusion

Dystonia is a movement disorder in which people experience muscles contraction involuntarily causing twisting and repetitive movements. It can affect a particular part, two or more parts, and all parts of your body. It can affect any person of any age group. This problem is more prone to the people of the age group 40 – 60 years. You should reach out to the best doctor for the diagnosis as soon as you experience the symptoms of dystonia. You should not ignore the symptoms of dystonia otherwise it can lead to major complications. This condition can be mild or severe. It can affect the activities that you perform in your day-to-day life. Deprivation of oxygen, Huntington's disease, and certain medicines are some of the possible causes of dystonia.

Your doctor will ask you many questions related to the medical history and family history to determine the type of dystonia. A visual examination of physical signs is required to diagnose dystonia. Electromyography (EMG), genetic test, CT or MRI scan, urine tests, and blood tests are some of the diagnostic tests conducted to know the form of dystonia. The treatment options that are available for treating dystonia include medication, physical therapy, and surgery. Botulinum toxin injections, tetrabenazine (Xenazine), benztropine, trihexyphenidyl, baclofen (Lioresal), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet, Parcopa) are some of the medications used for treating some forms of dystonia. Physical therapy, voice therapy, massage, and stretching are some of the therapies used to treat dystonia. Deep brain stimulation and selective denervation surgery are the two surgeries done for treating dystonia.

It is not possible to cure the condition of dystonia. Though, medicines can be used to ease the symptoms related to dystonia. It is not possible to prevent dystonia. You should follow healthy habits to prevent a stroke which can lead to dystonia. You should not smoke, avoid the consumption of alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, do exercises regularly, and eat a healthy diet to prevent a stroke. Many complications are associated with dystonia. The problems that are related to dystonia depend on the type of dystonia. The major complications of dystonia are pain, fatigue, functional blindness, and difficulty with speech, jaw movement, and swallowing. People have a lot of myths or misconceptions about dystonia. For treating dystonia, skeletal muscle relaxants are used is one of the common myths. Dystonia is an acquired neuromuscular disorder is another misconception.

If you are looking for the answers to various questions including:

  • What is dystonia?
  • What are the signs or symptoms of dystonia?
  • What are the causes of dystonia?
  • How is dystonia diagnosed?
  • How is dystonia prevented?
  • How is dystonia treated?
  • What are the various complications associated with dystonia?
  • What are the various myths or misconceptions about dystonia?

Then you are at the right place. Please refer to the above-mentioned information in order to get answers to all of your questions.

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Last updated on : 24-12-2018

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