Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes involuntary, uncontrolled muscle contractions in one muscle, group of muscles, or the entire body.
Dystonia cannot be cured completely, but treatments can help reduce symptoms and slow down progression of the disease.
What are treatment options for dystonia?
Some medications affect chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain that are responsible for muscle movements. These medicines include:
- Carbidopa and levodopa: Increase the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine
- Trihexyphenidyl and benztropine: Work on the levels of other neurotransmitters besides dopamine
- Tetrabenazine and deutetrabenazine: Block dopamine
- Diazepam and baclofen: Reduce neurotransmission and improve symptoms of dystonia
- Deep brain stimulation: Electrodes are surgically implanted in the brain and connected to a generator implanted on the chest. Electrical pulses are sent from the generator to the brain through these electrodes. These pulses disrupt brain signals, causing muscular contractions.
- Selective denervation: Nerves that control muscle contraction are cut. This procedure is performed if other therapies are not successful.
- Physical or occupational therapy: Used to improve muscle function and reduce symptoms.
- Speech therapy: Recommended if the muscles that control your voice are affected by dystonia
- Stretching or massage: Helps reduce muscle pain
What causes dystonia?
The exact cause of dystonia is unknown. Possible causes include:
What are the signs and symptoms of dystonia?
The first onset of dystonia can occur at any age between childhood (5-16 years) and adulthood. Symptoms range from mild to severe and develop in stages. Symptoms may remain the same or worsen over time.
Early-stage symptoms include:
- Cramp in the foot
- Involuntary and rapid blinking
- Dragging leg
- Pain and exhaustion due to constant muscles contraction
If dystonia occurs in childhood, symptoms first show up in the foot or hand and then quickly progress to the rest of the body. In adolescents, the progression is slow.
If dystonia begins in late adolescence, symptoms start in the upper body and mostly remain confined to one part or two or more adjacent parts.
How is dystonia diagnosed?
To diagnose dystonia, your doctor will take your family and medical history and perform physical and neurologic tests.
To determine what health conditions are causing your dystonia, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
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