Dystonia | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Dystonia

Dystonia is a condition that causes involuntary movement of the body’s muscles. There are three types of dystonia:

  • Focal dystonia, which affects a single area of your body
  • Segmental dystonia, which affects two or more adjacent parts of your body
  • General dystonia, which affects all areas of your body

There is no cure for this condition, but symptoms of this movement disorder can be improved with medications.

Signs and Symptoms of Dystonia

Dystonia can affect people differently. Some signs and symptoms may include:

  • Cervical dystonia, which involves contractions that can cause your head to turn to one side, backward, or upward, often causing pain
  • Oromandibular dystonia, in which contractions affect the jaw and can make it difficult to chew, swallow, or speak
  • Dystonia of the eyelids, in which contractions can cause involuntary spasms that make your eyes close or blink rapidly. This symptom may increase when you are under stress or in bright light. It may also cause your eyes to feel dry
  • Spasmodic dystonia, in which contractions affect the voice box and vocal cords and can reduce your voice to a whisper
  • Dystonia of the hand and forearm, which involves contractions that only occur when you are doing a certain activity, such as writing or playing a musical instrument

Causes and Risk Factors of Dystonia

The exact cause of dystonia is not known. Medical experts believe it may be due to an alteration in communication between nerve cells in several regions of the brain. In some cases, dystonia can be a symptom of an underlying disease, such as:

Tests and Diagnosis of Dystonia

To make a diagnosis of dystonia, your doctor will first take your medical history and perform a general physical examination. To assess whether the symptoms are caused by an underlying condition, your doctor may order:

  • Blood tests to look for toxins or other conditions
  • CT or MRI scans, which are imaging tests that can highlight any brain abnormalities, such as tumors or lesions
  • Electromyography (EMG), which is a test to measure electrical activity within your muscles

Treatment and Care for Dystonia

Your doctor may recommend medication to manage your muscle contractions. Often this involves botox injections into specific muscles or areas to reduce or eliminate muscle contractions. You will usually need to repeat the injections every three to four months.

Other options are medications that target neurotransmitters in your brain to reduce certain muscle movement.