When an individual experiences uncontrollable movements in different parts of the body, it is due to a condition called dystonia. Commonly, the cause of why it happens is the fault of signals coming from the brain. There are different dystonia types and while some of them are short-term or temporary, others can be lifelong. However, approximately all dystonia types are treatable or are curable underlying conditions.

What is Dystonia?

This health condition is a nervous system disorder that provokes uncontrollable movements. Although it negatively affects the muscles, it is a symptom of a problem with the brain or another nervous system part.

Some people may confuse dystonia and dyskinesia but they are not the same. However, dystonia is a type of dyskinesia that causes muscle tension for long periods in different parts of the body. Dyskinesia is a health condition that causes involuntary movements and you are not able to control them.

Moreover, anyone can experience this health condition. Some people have dystonia due to age-related causes. Furthermore, experts cannot tell how common this condition is because it takes many forms. In any case, about 300,000 people are affected by this health condition in the United States.

How Does Dystonia Affect My Body?

This disease occurs when a person has a brain disease that controls muscles throughout the body. The dystonia symptoms may worsen if you drink alcohol or caffeine or when you are feeling stressed or tired.

There are some dystonia cases that happen due to genetic mutations or diseases. As a result, the cells do not work properly, which leads the faulty signals reaching the muscles causing uncontrollable muscle contractions. In addition, injuries and other health conditions can also provoke dystonia.


The main dystonia symptom is uncontrollable movements. Check below how these movements are:

  • Painful and uncomfortable, sometimes feeling such as electric shocks
  • Repetitive (tremors)
  • Different according to the time they last
  • Twisting or stretching
  • Worse if you are using the affected muscles

In any case, the symptoms may vary depending on the dystonia type a person experiences. Check below types of dystonia:

  • Focal dystonia
  • Segmental dystonia
  • Multifocal dystonia
  • Hemidystonia
  • Generalized dystonia

Focal Dystonia

This dystonia type affects one part of the body only and it is about 10 times more common than generalized dystonia. This dystonia type can take different forms depending on the part of the body that is affected. For example:

  • Jaw (bruxism)
  • Hand or wrist – Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Eyelids (blepharospasm)

Segmental Dystonia

In such cases, the condition impacts different parts of the body (such as the head and neck, or hand and arm). The most common segmental dystonia are cervical dystonia and Meige syndrome (a condition that affects different parts of the face).

Multifocal Dystonia

This type of dystonia negatively affects more parts of the body that are not directly connected. For example, it can affect both hands. One example of multifocal dystonia is Tardive dyskinesia.


This dystonia type impacts one side of the body only. For example, a person can experience uncontrollable muscle movements on the right side of the face and right hand. In most cases, this dystonia type occurs due to stroke.

Generalized Dystonia

It is a type of dystonia that affects the leg and trunk of the body or even the whole body. Usually, generalized dystonia occurs when this condition is progressive, meaning it worsens over time. Additionally, the symptoms spread from the limbs to the trunk when focal dystonia turns into generalized dystonia.


This health condition happens due to a disruption of brain function and it commonly involves ganglia. These are a group of brain structures that connect brain areas and help to coordinate them. Healthcare professionals classify dystonia causes into 3 categories. Examples include:

  • Primary dystonia – In such cases, dystonia is the main health condition, and usually the reasons are not known. However, experts think there is a genetic factor that can start in families.
  • Secondary dystonia – Commonly, dystonia is a symptom of another health condition.
  • Dystonia plus – In this case, a person experiences dystonia as a primary symptom of neurological conditions but there are other symptoms too.

Secondary Dystonia Causes

  • Brain tumors
  • Recreational or prescription medicines
  • Genetic diseases (including Wilson’s disease or Huntington’s disease)
  • Infections (such as encephalitis)
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Stroke
  • Other brain diseases (such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and others)
  • Cerebral hypoxia
  • Poisons and toxins
  • Traumatic brain injuries

Additionally, this health condition is not contagious and cannot spread to other people.


Dystonia is usually diagnosed by a neurologist. They confirm this disease based on the symptoms, neurological examination, several medical tests, and medical and family history.

There are different diagnostic and imaging tests for dystonia. Check below the most common tests used in the dystonia diagnosis:

  • Blood tests (verify from immune system problems to toxins and poisons)
  • CT (computed tomography) scans
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Genetic tests
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • Electromyogram (nerve conduction test) and others

If you will need additional tests, your doctor will tell you about them.


Unfortunately, this condition is not curable but proper treatment can lessen the symptoms. For some people consuming alcohol and caffeine drinks may worsen this health condition. Check below some treatment options:

  • Physical and speech therapy – The treatment methods help to adapt or recover a person from dystonia.
  • Botulinum toxin injections – Physicians may give you this injection to block all nerve signals for a period of time. This helps to stop signals that provoke dystonia. This medicine should be injected in the right place. Do not administer it alone at home but only in a clinic or hospital under medical supervision.
  • Medicines – There are some dystonia types that can be treated with medicines only.
  • Deep brain stimulation – This is a surgery that involves special electrodes that are implanted in the brain. Thereafter, you will receive a small electrical current to that brain part that provokes dystonia. However, this is one of the most effective treatment methods for dystonia.


Usually, is not possible to prevent this health condition because in most cases it happens suddenly. In any case, you can reduce the risk of developing primary dystonia. Check below some tips that may reduce the risk of primary and secondary dystonia:

  • Treat eye and ear infections because these can spread to the brain and cause serious damage. For example encephalitis (brain inflammation).
  • Adopt a well-balanced diet and keep a healthy weight – Different circulatory and heart diseases (such as stroke) can provoke brain damage and cause dystonia. However, managing conditions can have a significant effect on preventing dystonia.
  • Wear safety equipment to prevent brain injuries or trauma because this is another dystonia cause.
  • Certain chronic diseases can also contribute to or cause dystonia. For example type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), epilepsy, and others.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does dystonia last?

Primary dystonia is a lifelong condition and cannot be cured but symptoms can be managed with a treatment. Secondary dystonia usually happens due to an underlying condition. The duration of this dystonia type depends on the underlying cause as well. Discuss with your doctor for more information.

When should I go to the emergency room?

In case one side of the face drops when a person is trying to smile, has slurred speech, or cannot raise the arms upward, you should immediately call 911.

Does dystonia turn into Parkinson’s disease?

However, dystonia can be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, it is possible to have dystonia without Parkinson’s. Ask your doctor if you have any questions.

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