In dystonia, your muscles contract involuntarily — causing uncontrollable repetitive or twisting movements of the affected body part. Your symptoms may be mild or severe, and may interfere with your performance of many day-to-day tasks.
Doctors divide dystonia into categories including generalized, focal, segmental and other less common categories. In focal dystonia, the most common category, one part of your body is affected. Generalized dystonia affects most or all of your body. In segmental dystonia, two or more adjacent areas of your body are affected. Some types of dystonia are inherited.
Medications can sometimes improve dystonia symptoms, but inconsistently. In some more-severe cases, surgery may be used to disable or regulate certain brain regions or nerves.
The impact of dystonia on your quality of life varies depending on the part of your body affected, the type of dystonia and the severity of your muscle contractions. Areas of the body affected may include:
When to see a doctor
Doctors don't know exactly what causes most cases of dystonia, but a few factors may be involved.
Altered nerve cell communication
Depending on the type of dystonia, you may experience complications, including:
All of these factors may lead to feelings of frustration, depression or anxiety.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in nervous system disorders (neurologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For dystonia, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your signs and symptoms and conduct a physical examination.
You'll be asked to provide your complete medical history, including any family history of dystonia, previous head injury or stroke, or exposure to toxins or drugs.
You may have other tests to determine if underlying conditions are causing your symptoms. Tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
Dystonia can't be cured, but doctors can provide you with several treatments to improve some of your symptoms.
Other medications, including trihexyphenidyl and benztropine, may improve your symptoms by acting on other neurotransmitters. These medications may cause side effects including memory loss, blurred vision, drowsiness, dry mouth and constipation.
Other medications that act on neurotransmitters, including diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), baclofen (Lioresal), may help some forms of dystonia. These medications may cause side effects, such as drowsiness.
Alternative treatments for dystonia haven't been well-studied, but some people find that some of these therapies are helpful.
Coping and support
Living with dystonia can be difficult and frustrating. Your body may not always move the way you would like it to move, and you may be uncomfortable in social situations.
You and your family may find it helpful to talk to a therapist. Also, you and your family may benefit from joining a support group. Support groups can provide you with information regarding your condition. Ask your doctor for suggestions of local support groups, or check the Internet for information about support groups in your area.
Last Updated: 2012-05-12
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