What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a type of movement disorder characterised by uncontrollable muscle contractions. The result is an involuntary twisting of of body parts and abnormal postures. This condition may affect just one muscle, a group of muscles or the entire body. 

What are the symptoms of dystonia?

The symptoms of dystonia can vary and can be mild or severe. Common early symptoms include:

  • cramping of the foot
  • speech difficulties
  • a dragging foot when walking
  • excessive blinking

Symptoms of dystonia can  be worse with stress or fatigue, and with the constand muscular contractions, pain and discomfort is common. 

What causes dystonia?

There are no specific causes of dystonia and it is not fully understood as a condition, however, it is thought that it can be attributed to chemical imbalances in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is responsible for initiating muscle contractions, and if the nerve cells here are not communicating properly, muscle contractions can become involuntary and uncontorllable. 

Dystonia can either be hereditary from parents, or it can be acquired if the basal ganglia is damaged. Damage to the basal ganglia can result from:

  • oxygen deprivation
  • infection
  • brain trauma
  • stroke
  • tumour
  • lead of carbon monoxide poisoning
  • reactions to certain drugs

What is the treatment for dystonia?

Treating dystonia depends on the severity and the part of the body affected. A fairly new treatment for dystonia makes use of botulinum toxin (Botox) injections which is injected into the affected muscles. Botox help as it blocks the chemical called acetylcholine which produces muscle contractions. With repeated injections, some control can be regained over the muscle contractions. 

In more severe cases of dystonia, deep brain stimulation can be carried out as a treatment. This involves an electrode being implanted into the affected brain area which is connected to a stimulator that emits electric pulses which aim to reduce the number of involuntary muscle contractions. 

There are also medications which can help dystonia patients by controlling the chemical miscommunications happening in their brain which causes the muscle contractions.

Finally, there are physical therapy, speech therapy and stress management techniques that can help dystonia patients manage their symptoms. 

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