Dystonia is a medical disorder in which a person's muscles contract irregularly and involuntarily due to nerve damage. Individuals may experience dystonia in one or more muscles at a time, most commonly in the hands, feet, neck, and mouth. The condition can be caused by a number of different factors, including brain and spine trauma, strokes, tumors, serious infections, and inherited genetic tendencies. Dystonia symptoms can range from very mild, such as occasional twitches in the hand or foot, to completely debilitating, such as painful spasms in the neck that cause irreversible nerve and tissue damage. Depending on the part of the body that is afflicted, doctors have identified a number of telling dystonia symptoms, including cramps, loss of coordination, muscle pain, abnormal posture, and fatigue.
The most common dystonia symptoms are painful spasms and cramps that begin in a single part of the body, such as the hand. An individual might find that his or her hand cramps up during regular activity, such as writing or grasping a steering wheel. In time, the cramps tend to last longer and become more painful, and the muscles begin to twitch during other activities. An afflicted person may lose coordination and eventually become completely unable to control a certain muscle.
People who suffer from frequent muscle contractions in other regions of the body experience additional dystonia symptoms. Individuals with muscle problems in their mouths or jaws may have difficulty eating, swallowing, and speaking. Neck spasms can cause the head to jerk violently, sometimes leading to torn muscles, whiplash, and even brain damage. Eye and eyelid dystonia can cause uncontrollable, rapid blinking and eventual blindness.
Many secondary dystonia symptoms become prevalent when an individual suffers from chronic pain and spasms. A person may develop poor or abnormal posture as a result of back and leg spasms and experience excess stress, anxiety, and fatigue from constant muscle movement. Many people have difficulty sleeping due to twitches and pain while lying down.
An individual who believes he or she is experiencing dystonia symptoms should consult a neurologist to confirm the diagnosis and initiate a treatment plan. A doctor usually gathers information about a patient's medical and family history, conducts a physical examination, and orders blood tests to check for signs of stroke or cancer. There is no proven cure for dystonia, but physicians can alleviate symptoms and treat the underlying causes by prescribing dopamine enhancing drugs, injecting botulinum toxin (Botox®) into affected muscles, and occasionally arranging for surgical procedures to remove damaged or malfunctioning nerves. Ongoing medical research will likely bring about more effective treatment procedures and possibly a cure for dystonia.