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Meige's Syndrome — or Brueghel's Syndrome — is a condition that impacts certain facial movements. It is generally characterized by involuntary jaw or eye actions, such as jutting and blinking, respectively. As such, the disease is categorized as dystonia. Causes and treatments are generally unknown, although neural origins and alternative treatments have been proposed.
The disease Meige's Syndrome was first recognized by neurologist Henri Meige in the early 20th century, although medical cases were being detailed as early as the 1870s. The condition’s namesake characterized it by a range of symptoms, most resulting from uncontrollable body spasms. While it can impact anyone, it generally does not manifest before the age of 30, and it seems to occur in more women than men.
Two different conditions comprise Meige’s Syndrome: blepharospasm and oromandibular dystonia. These are both forms of dystonia, a disease in which repeated contractions of muscles lead to twisted movements and uncomfortable bodily positions. The oromandibular portion of this affliction mostly impacts the facial area, particularly the mouth. Uncontrollable movements in the jaw, lips, and tongue are commonplace, which often results in pain and teeth grinding. Symptoms may also make eating, drinking, and speaking more difficult.
Blepharospasm, on the other hand, attacks the eyes and their surroundings. Involuntary blinking and squinting are the usual consequence. Pain following light exposure can occur in some cases as well. In general, eye-related symptoms occur before the onset of mouth and jaw-related symptoms. Some cases also present mogigraphia — or hand cramps — as an early indicator.
No formal cause is agreed upon for Meige's Syndrome. Some researchers, however, believe that a malfunction in brain cells of the pons and the medulla may serve as the primary origin. The suspected network of cells responsible is known as the extrapyramidal system. Other individuals have proposed that entrance of harmful organic substances like bacteria into these areas may trigger the disease.
Although no truly effective medical treatment has been uncovered, a few alternative treatments like acupuncture have helped to alleviate symptoms for some patients. Botox injections into the affected areas may prove helpful for some individuals as well. Ironically, certain activities may either induce symptoms or alleviate symptoms. Talking, chewing, or rubbing affected areas may create either response. Symptoms also tend to cease during sleep.
One reason why this condition gained public interest was due to its suspected prominence in a 16th century painting titled De Gaper. The subject of the artwork is a woman who has apparent abnormal contortions in the face and neck area. Curiosity about this real-life portrait led to speculations about the woman's condition. Since the piece captures one of the first likely documented cases of Meige's Syndrome, the disease often carries the name of this painting's artist, Pieter Brueghel.