Dystonia – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Dystonia is an unconscious and long-lasting muscle contraction. It can occur regardless of a person’s age. Therapeutic approaches to treating symptoms are based on the form of dystonia and the symptoms of those affected.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a nerve disorder characterized by involuntary (non-volitional) muscle contractions occurring in the sufferer. Which muscles are affected by dystonia differs depending on the individual case:

If there is a so-called generalized dystonia, the muscles of the whole body or a large part of the body can be affected by muscle contractions. A so-called focal dystonia, on the other hand, usually only affects individual muscle groups.

Muscle contractions in the context of dystonia can express themselves, for example, through certain movements of the person concerned or through changes in posture. Dystonia can occur in people of any age; the onset of generalized dystonia is often in childhood, while focal dystonia often occurs in middle adulthood.


The causes that led to dystonia often remain unknown. The causes differ fundamentally in different forms of dystonia: While the so-called primary dystonia is usually based on direct causes, the less common secondary dystonia occurs as a symptom of another underlying factor.

Primary dystonia may be influenced by genetic factors; however, the nerve disorder can be present in different forms in different family members. There are many possible causes of secondary dystonia: This form of dystonia can be caused by underlying diseases such as forms of Parkinson ‘s disease or Huntington ‘s disease.

Secondary dystonia can also occur as a side effect of so-called neuroleptics (medicines that have a depressant effect). Testimonials from those affected often mention accidents involving the neck before the onset of secondary dystonia.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

In most cases, dystonia involves involuntary twitching and muscle movement. Various muscles are usually affected, so that the affected person cannot control this region either. Dystonia occurs regardless of age and can therefore also affect different groups of people.

In addition to the convulsions, those affected often also suffer from cramps in the muscles or severe tension . These are associated with pain, so that the quality of life of those affected is significantly reduced. Those affected are often no longer able to carry out strenuous activities or sports due to dystonia and are therefore restricted in their lives.

Muscle tremors can also occur with dystonia and make everyday life even more difficult. In children, the disease can also lead to developmental disorders, since children are unable to play or take part in sports activities due to the disease, for example. Mental health problems or depression often occur as well .

Children can also become victims of bullying or teasing. The life expectancy of the patient is usually not negatively affected by the dystonia. In some cases, wounds do not heal properly due to the twitching, and in the worst case it can lead to blood poisoning .

Diagnosis & History

A medical consultation with the person affected and a physical examination are often sufficient for the diagnosis of dystonia. Occasionally, the diagnosis of dystonia is backed up by blood tests , magnetic resonance imaging (via MRT ) or electromyograms (via EMG ).

The course of dystonia varies from person to person. In some cases, primary dystonia begins with relatively severe symptoms (and associated pain) but then completely resolves within a time frame of approximately 3 years. However, a new illness after a successful decline is possible here.

In other cases, for example, symptoms of primary dystonia may worsen over a period of perhaps 3-5 years before the disease process often stabilizes. The course of secondary dystonia in the presence of an underlying disease essentially depends on the course of this underlying disease.


Since muscle groups or even individual muscles move uncontrollably in dystonia, various complications can also occur in this context. Many affected people injure their hands, which can only heal with great difficulty.

Wounds caused by repeated “knocking out” or stress cannot heal properly. It is not uncommon for a simple wound to become inflamed, which should definitely be treated with appropriate medication. Otherwise, there is even a risk of blood poisoning if the inflammation forms an abscess.

At that point at the latest, a doctor should definitely be consulted. Other complications or side effects are severe and long-lasting headaches, permanent tremors in individual limbs and hematomas. Dystonia also severely weakens the human body, so that those affected become tired and exhausted much more quickly.

Anyone suffering from the first signs of dystonia should not put off a visit to the doctor. The complications and side effects mentioned above can only be treated with an early diagnosis. Full recovery is very rarely possible. However, appropriate medication can bring about a significant improvement in well-being.

When should you go to the doctor?

Dystonia is a disease in which human movement is severely restricted. Individual muscle groups tense up so much that the affected person can no longer regulate individual movement sequences properly. If you do not go to the doctor at this point, the symptoms will increase immensely within a short time. There may also be other side effects, such as headaches, fever, nausea or vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, you should definitely see a doctor.

With appropriate treatment and the right medication, these side effects can be combated very well and effectively. If the affected person decides to be treated by a doctor, the symptoms that occur can be alleviated and combated very well.

Anyone suffering from dystonia should definitely seek medical and drug treatment. This can lead to rapid improvement. Complete healing is also only possible if such treatment takes place at an early stage. If you wait too long to see a doctor, you may have to reckon with consequential damage that is irreparable.

Treatment & Therapy

An effective therapy initially depends on the type of dystonia. If the causes of primary dystonia are unclear, therapy is usually aimed at treating the symptoms that occur; curing the dystonia in these cases is usually not possible at present. Depending on the therapeutic requirements, dystonia can be treated on an outpatient basis or in specialized centers.

Local injection treatment is usually used to effectively treat focal dystonia. So-called botulinum toxin is injected into the muscle affected by the dystonia. The toxin inhibits nerve-muscle communication, causing the muscle contractions of dystonia to relax. As a rule, the injection treatments are continued at three-month intervals.

Injection therapy for dystonia can be supported in individual cases by the administration of drugs that act in a similar way to botulinum toxin. Some people have surgical procedures to treat dystonia; it is possible here, for example, to sever connections between nerves and muscles or to insert a so-called brain pacemaker.

Outlook & Forecast

Dystonia does not heal itself and usually does not improve if no treatment is initiated.

Dystonia is associated with severe muscle spasms that occur involuntarily, significantly reducing the sufferer’s quality of life. Strong tension also occurs, with those affected often trembling. Dystonia makes everyday life more difficult, which can lead to delayed development in children. In many cases, the symptoms worsen with age, so that symptoms and complications can also occur in adulthood. Only in rare cases do the symptoms of dystonia disappear on their own in childhood.

The treatment can be carried out with the help of medication and significantly reduces the symptoms, so that the patient can develop normally. Various therapies may also be necessary to support the muscles. As a rule, however, there is a positive course of the disease if the disease is treated. Starting treatment early has a very positive effect on the disease. The life expectancy of the patient is not affected by the dystonia.


Due to the lack of knowledge about the causes that can lead to the various forms of dystonia, appropriate prevention is usually hardly possible. The main way to prevent the development of severe symptoms associated with dystonia is to identify the condition early and treat it appropriately.


In most cases, the person affected with dystonia has no special options or measures for aftercare. The person affected is primarily dependent on early detection and subsequent treatment of the disease so that no further complications arise. The further course and the success of the treatment depend very much on the exact underlying disease, so that no general prediction can be made here.

Under certain circumstances, the life expectancy of the person affected is also limited by the dystonia. In most cases, treatment is carried out with the help of medication, physiotherapy and physical therapy. The person concerned can also carry out many of the exercises from such a therapy at home and thus increase the mobility of the muscles again.

When taking medication, the patient should always follow the doctor’s precise instructions. If you have any questions or are unclear, you should always contact a doctor to avoid complications and other complaints. Furthermore, the support and care provided by one’s own family and friends makes sense in order to make everyday life easier for the person concerned.

You can do that yourself

Drug and surgical procedures are the focus of therapy for dystonia. What patients can do themselves to improve their state of health and their quality of life depends on the type of disorder.

Patients suffering from a severe form of blepharospasm have to blink at such extremely short intervals that many everyday activities such as working on a computer screen, watching TV or reading a book are no longer possible. Here it often makes sense to switch to offers and technologies that have been developed for the blind, even if the patient has not lost his sight.

Speech recognition can make working on the screen easier. Wearing dark glasses while watching TV makes it easier to focus on the sound and at least be able to follow news or political programs. Many books are also available as audio books.

In the case of persistent misalignments, physiotherapeutic and orthopedic measures can prevent damage to the joints and the associated restriction of movement. If cervical dystonia causes what is known as a torticollis, wearing a neck brace can be helpful.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.