UW Health's Movement Disorders Program, based at University Hospital, treats patients with dystonia.

Dystonia is a group of disorders in which patients experience involuntary muscle spasms or contractions. This leads to abnormal body positions, or to twisting and jerking movements of the body. In many types of dystonia, only one part of the body is affected, like the head and neck or the eyelids. In some forms of dystonia, symptoms are more generalized throughout the body.

What causes dystonia?


In many cases of dystonia, a specific cause is not found. Some people develop dystonia because they have inherited a gene that causes it. Others develop dystonia as a consequence of a brain injury, infection, or chemical exposure. In some people, repetitive fine motor activity, such as playing a musical instrument or sport, leads to dystonia of the muscles involved in that activity.

How is dystonia diagnosed?


A movement disorders specialist or neurologist makes a diagnosis of dystonia based on the clinical examination. Blood tests and brain scans can be helpful in clarifying the specific type of dystonia. Clues to the type of dystonia include the age of the patient when symptoms start, the parts of the body affected, and whether there is any family history of similar symptoms.

How is dystonia treated?


Dystonia treatment can involve prescription medications aimed at reducing involuntary muscle contraction. Some common medication types for dystonia include:

  • Anti-cholinergics
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Baclofen
  • Muscle relaxants

Another strategy for reducing the problematic muscle contraction and spasm is with botulinum toxin (Botox) injections. The injections temporarily weaken the targeted muscles and need to be repeated three to four times per year.


Resources for More Information on Dystonia