Muscle Spasms

What causes muscle spasms? (Part 3)

Dystonias are movement disorders where groups of muscles forcefully contract and cause twisting. Uncontrolled repetitive movements and the inability to maintain normal posture may be the result of this type of muscle spasm and cramping. The symptoms may be very mild initially but gradually progress to become more frequent and aggressive. Occasionally, there is no progression. Examples of this type of muscle spasm include torticollis (where the neck muscles spasm and cause the head to turn to one side), blepharospasm (where there is uncontrolled blinking of the eyes), and laryngeal dystonia that affects the muscles that control speech. Dystonias may be caused by abnormally functioning neurotransmitter chemicals within part of the brain called the basal ganglia. These chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine, and GABA) are required to properly send messages between brain cells that begin muscle contraction. Dystonia symptoms may occur as a complication of stroke.

What are risk factors for muscle spasms?

Most people are at risk for developing a muscle spasm at one time. The risks differ depending upon the person's past medical history, their occupation, and level of physical activity. Examples include the following:

  • Construction and factory workers who work in hot environments are at risk for becoming dehydrated and developing heat cramps. This same situation can occur in athletes, both elite and recreational.
  • Patients with peripheral artery disease can develop nocturnal leg cramps. Risk factors are the same as for stroke and heart attack: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking.
  • Patients who have underlying neurologic disorders are at risk for developing muscle spasms. Continue Reading
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Reviewed on 4/21/2016

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