Dystonia is a disorder that affects the way your body moves. It causes your muscles to contract, which makes them move involuntarily. Or, they may become stuck in an abnormal position. Dystonia can affect your entire body or a certain part. The movements can sometimes cause pain.
There are different types of dystonia, depending on which part of your body is affected:
Although experts aren't exactly sure what causes dystonia, they think it is related to a problem in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. This is where your brain processes the information that helps your muscles contract. The theory is that your neurotransmitters, the chemicals that do the "talking" in the brain, are abnormal in people with dystonia. Dystonia, however, doesn't affect your intelligence or your ability to think. It isn’t generally related to mental health issues.
Research has pinpointed a number of different genetic defects that have been linked to dystonia. Dystonia can also be caused by a stroke; this is called secondary dystonia. In this case, the symptoms are usually limited to one side of the body.
The first signs of dystonia can appear at any age, from children (usually between the ages of 5 and 16) to adults.
Scientific researchers have not yet determined the exact cause of dystonia. But, certain factors can put you at risk for the disorder. These include:
Symptoms may start slowly — you might notice that your handwriting is deteriorating. You may get cramps in your feet or, more noticeably, you may lose control over your foot and find that it contracts or drags along.
Other symptoms of dystonia can include:
The symptoms of dystonia may stay the same or worsen over time.
Diagnosing dystonia is a multi step process because no single test can give a definitive answer. Your healthcare provider will usually do a physical exam and evaluate your symptoms. He or she will also take a personal and family history to find out if you have any genetic indications for dystonia.
Other tests used to help diagnose dystonia include:
Your healthcare provider will take an individualized approach to your treatment. This may mean using a combination of things to help you manage pain and reduce muscle spasms. He or she may try a number of different medicines that treat dystonia. These include drugs that affect the specific neurotransmitters acetylcholine, GABA, and dopamine. Other drugs that your healthcare provider might prescribe are anticonvulsants or injections of Botulinum toxin (Botox).
You may need surgery to treat dystonia, especially if you aren't able to manage symptoms with medicine. But surgery can have negative consequences, such as destroying parts of your brain.
Other possible treatment methods include:
Constant muscle movement and contractions can result in fatigue and exhaustion. People also report that their symptoms worsen in stressful situations. Some people with dystonia may develop permanent malformations if their muscle spasms lead to constriction of their tendons.
Even though you may not be able to prevent dystonia, genetic testing can reveal if you have a genetic defect that can cause dystonia. Speaking with a geneticist or a genetic counselor can help you decide if genetic testing is a good idea for you and your family.
Any involuntary muscle spasms or loss of control over muscles are symptoms that you should discuss with your healthcare provider.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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