We know: All about Dystonia

What is dystonia?

The dystonias are movement disorders in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures. The movements, which are involuntary and sometimes painful, may affect a single muscle, a group of muscles such as those in the arms, legs, or neck, or the entire body.

What are some of the symptoms of dystonia?

Early symptoms may include a deterioration in handwriting (after writing several lines), foot cramps and a tendency of one foot to pull up or drag after running or walking some distance. Other possible symptoms are tremor and voice or speech difficulties.

What can cause symptoms of dystonia?

  • Birth injury (particularly due to lack of oxygen), certain infections, reactions to certain drugs, heavy-metal or carbon monoxide poisoning, trauma, or stroke can cause dystonic symptoms.
  • About half the cases of dystonia have no connection to disease or injury and are called primary or idiopathic dystonia. Of the primary dystonias, many cases appear to be inherited in a dominant manner.
  • Dystonias can also be symptoms of other diseases, some of which may be hereditary. In some individuals, symptoms of a dystonia appear in childhood between the ages of 5 and 16, usually in the foot or in the hand. For other individuals, the symptoms emerge in late adolescence or early adulthood.

How are the dystonias classified?

One way to classify the dystonias is according to the parts of the body they affect:

  • Generalized dystonia affects most or all of the body.
  • Focal dystonia is localized to a specific part of the body.
  • Multifocal dystonia involves two or more unrelated body parts.
  • Segmental dystonia affects two or more adjacent parts of the body.
  • Hemidystonia involves the arm and leg on the same side of the body.

Is there any treatment for dystonia?

No one treatment has been found universally effective. Instead, physicians use a variety of therapies (medications, surgery and other treatments such as physical therapy, splinting, stress management, and biofeedback), aimed at reducing or eliminating muscle spasms and pain.

Since response to drugs varies among patients and even in the same person over time, the most effective therapy is often individualized.

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