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Recognizing Signs & Symptoms of Dystonia in Southern California


Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions. It can affect muscles throughout the entire body (generalized) or the muscles in a single group (focal). Dystonia occurs when intact unimpaired nerves are behaving abnormally.

Dignity Health Southern California offers expert neurology services focused on personal care with humankindness. To find out more about our comprehensive diagnostic and treatment strategies for dystonia in Southern California, use our online Find a Doctor tool and make an appointment today.

What are Signs & Symptoms of Dystonia?

Dystonia signs and symptoms will depend on if the condition is generalized or focal. Dystonia symptoms may begin very mild and occur during periods of elevated physical activity or stress. These symptoms may worsen over time. In general, dystonia can cause:

  • Pain
  • Involuntary motions of the neck, such as twisting or jerking
  • Twitching eyelid (blepharospasm)
  • Tremors of the head or hand
  • Muscle twitches or cramps
  • Foot drag when walking or running
  • Problems speaking or vocal tremor

Diagnosing Dystonia at Dignity Health Southern California

A simple physical exam may be all that is needed to diagnose some forms of dystonia, such as blepharospasm. However, many movement disorders have similar signs and symptoms to dystonia. To rule out other causes for your condition, your doctor may order additional tests.

Diagnosis begins with a thorough personal and family medical history. Tell your doctor if anyone in your immediate family has a dystonia or any other movement disorder. Also let your doctor know if you have have had any exposure to chemicals or medications that affect the brain, or if you have experienced any head trauma such as a head injury. Next, your doctor will perform a physical examination to check your reflexes and muscle rigidity.

To distinguish between a dystonia and a related disorder, your doctor may order tests including:

  • Electromyography (EMG), to evaluate the communication between your muscles and nerves
  • Imaging scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) to look for signs of stroke or lesions in the brain
  • Blood and urine tests to rule out toxins as a possible cause of tremor

You may find it helpful to keep a record of your symptoms. Include information such as the severity of the episode, when the episode occurred, and the circumstances surrounding it. This information can help your Dignity Health Southern California doctor accurately assess your condition and create a treatment plan that best fits your needs.

Dignity Health offers comprehensive diagnostic services for symptoms of dystonia in Southern California.