Dystonia Clinic

The Movement and Inherited Neurological Disorders Unit (MIND) is dedicated to comprehensive patient care of those affected by dystonia.

What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which force certain parts of the body into abnormal, sometimes painful, movements or postures. Dystonia can affect any part of the body including the arms and legs, trunk, neck, eyelids, face, or vocal cords.

Dystonia may cause impairment as muscle contractions interfere with normal function. For example, when it affects the eyelids, a person can be “blind with normal vision” as prolonged or sustained blinking interferes with normal sight. It can also be painful or socially embarrassing. Features such as cognition, strength, and the senses, including vision and hearing, are usually normal. While dystonia is not fatal, it is a chronic disorder and prognosis is difficult to predict.

There are many forms of dystonia, including:

  • Blepharospasm – forceful involuntary closure of the eyelids
  • Spasmodic torticollis, or cervical dystonia – muscle spasm in the neck that causes the head to turn to one side, and sometimes forward or backward
  • Oromandibular dystonia – continuous spasms of the face, jaw, neck, or tongue
  • Spasmodic dysphonia – spasm of the vocal cords that causes sudden disruption of speech
  • Focal dystonias of the limbs – specific to a certain repetitive task, including writer’s cramp and musician’s dystonia

Who Gets Dystonia?

Dystonia is the third most common movement disorder after Parkinson’s Disease and tremor, affecting more than 300,000 people in North America. It can start at any age, from childhood to older adults. When it starts in childhood, it is often due to genetic abnormalities. Over 15 genetic mutations causing dystonia have been identified. Although genetic mutations are more common in certain populations, dystonia can occur in any race or ethnicity.

Older onset dystonia is more often sporadic, with no identifiable family history. Older onset dystonia more often affects a particular part of the body, such as the neck or the eyes. People who use their hands in intense, finely controlled repetitive movements may occasionally develop dystonia specific to that activity.

What Are the Treatments for Dystonia?

Although there currently are no cures for dystonia, there are a number of symptomatic treatments that can provide relief. These include oral medications, including medications used to treat Parkinson’s Disease and muscle spasticity, and botulinum toxin injection therapy . Research continues into further treatments, such as deep brain stimulation and restraint therapy, among others.

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