Diseases & Conditions


DystoniaCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a movement disorder involving persistent muscle contractions characterized by twisting as well as repetitive movements and/or abnormal postures.

Causes of Dystonia

Causes of dystonia are divided into the following types:

Primary dystonia is thought to be caused by certain pathology of the nervous system, possibly originating from the basal ganglia as well as the GABA that controls motor function. Primary dystonia is likely to involve some sort of genetic predisposition towards this condition in tandem with environmental factors.

Secondary dystonia is more to do with brain damage or unknown factors like chemical imbalance. Certain cases of dystonia are caused by some drugs or due to disorders of the nervous system like Wilson’s disease. Task-related and environmental factors to kick start the development of certain focal dystonias. This is because they are found disproportionately in persons who execute extremely precise arm movements like engineers, artists, architects, musicians etc. The drug Chlorpromazine might also develop cause dystonia, which is mistaken for seizure.

Medication for Dystonia

Medication for dystonia may include the following:

  • Anticholinergics like Akineton, Cogentine, Artane, Benadryl
  • Benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin
  • Muscle relaxants like Barlofen
  • Dopamine agonists like Permax and Parlodel

However these medications should not be stopped suddenly.

Prevention of Dystonia

At present there is no way to prevent primary dystonia. Adopting sound lifestyle habits like avoiding stroke as well as toxins and harmful drugs can be of help in averting secondary dystonias.

Risk factors for Dystonia

Dystonia can involve a lot of complications as various body parts are involved. Fatigue, stress and anxiety might accompany dystonia. Some persons even feel stigmatized because they think that they are cognitively deficient as well as incapable of coping with life. In certain cases uncomfortable and awkward postures tend to become permanent. Bouts of muscle contraction that are particularly intense can give way to what is termed as dystonic storms.

Symptoms of Dystonia

Symptoms of dystonia differ according to the type of dystonia. Dystonia mostly tend to result in abnormal posturing, especially on movement. Many sufferers undergo constant pain, severe cramps as well as perpetual muscle spasms resulting from involuntary movements of the muscles. Smacking of the lips is also another possible motor symptom.

Initial symptoms can involve loss of muscle coordination in a precise manner exemplified by dropped items, declining ability to write and frequent minor injuries in the hands. Persons suffering from dystonia may experience trembling in their diaphragm when breathing. They may try to keep their limbs still so as to ease pain. One’s voice might often crack and turn harsh giving way to constant clearing of the throat. Swallowing might be difficult and accompanied by painful cramps.

Treatment for Dystonia

Treatment for dystonia is confined to bringing down the symptoms of the condition to the minimum. This is because successful treatment for dystonia is yet to materialize. Minimizing the kind of movements which worsen or trigger dystonic symptoms can offer some relief. It will also help to reduce stress, provide much needed rest, sufficient exercise as well as relaxation techniques. The many treatments available, focus on sedating functions of the brain, blocking neural communications with the concerned muscles by use of drugs, denervation or neuro-suppression. Such treatments have neither side effects nor involve any risks.

Types of Dystonia

The condition dystonia is of various types.

  • Generalized dystonia that affects most or all parts of the body.
  • Focal dystonia is confined to some specific part of the body.
  • Multifocal dystonia affects 2 or more disparate body parts.
  • Segmental dystonia involves 2 or more adjoining areas of the body.
  • Hemidystonia involves the limbs on one side of the body.

There are some dystonic patterns that fall into certain specific syndromes:

  • Cervical dystonia also termed spasmodic torticollis, or just torticollis, the most common of all focal dystonias, affects the neck muscles that control the movement of the head, making the head to twist as well as turn to one side.
  • Blepharospasm, is the second most common of all focal dystonia, involving the forcible and involuntary closure of eyelids. The initial symptoms might be uncontrollable blinking.
  • Torsion dystonia happens to be a generalized but rare dystonia that can be inherited. Beginning with childhood, it becomes progressively worse. This type of dystonia might very well leave people seriously disabled and even restricted to a wheelchair.
  • Cranial dystonia is a form of dystonia that involves muscles of the head, neck and face.
  • Writer's cramp is a dystonia that can affect the muscles of the forearm, and occurs only while engaged in writing. It is also called pianist’s cramp, musician’s cramp as well as typist's cramp.