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Overview of dystonia

Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes muscles to contract (tighten) involuntarily. The three main types of dystonia are acquired, genetic, and idiopathic (of unknown cause). Dystonia may affect the entire body (generalized) or only a specific muscle group (focal).

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Symptoms of dystonia

Dystonia always affects muscle movement. The initial signs and symptoms of dystonia may occur in childhood, although adults get dystonia, too. Dystonia symptoms vary, depending on the type of dystonia and the muscle group affected.

In general, any type of dystonia may cause muscle twitching, cramps, or tremors. Dystonia may also cause rapid eye blinking and trouble speaking. Occasionally, a dystonia affects a person’s ability to perform one specific function. For example, you may lose the ability to write with a pencil but retain the ability to eat using the same hand.

Causes of Dystonia

In most cases, the cause of dystonia is unknown (idiopathic). Researchers believe abnormalities in the parts of the brain responsible for controlling muscle movement may be the cause. Specifically, dystonia may result from problems with chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that relay information between the nerves and brain. Dystonia is not a neurodegenerative condition. Nerve cells are not wasting away.

A faulty gene inherited from one parent, or both parents, causes genetic dystonia. However, not all parents with dystonia pass the condition to each child.

Acquired dystonia, or secondary dystonia, is the result of brain injury. Such injury may be traumatic (such as a head injury) or may occur through exposure to chemicals, medications, or conditions that cause a lack of oxygen to the brain.