What is dystonia?
Dystonia is not a single disease but a syndrome
or set of symptoms that cannot be attributed to a single cause. Dystonia is
a neurological disorder that is characterised by abnormal muscle rigidity, causing
painful muscle spasms, unusually fixed postures, or strange movement patterns.
It is often not recognised when the person first presents to their doctor. Diagnosis
may not be straightforward.
How is it diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose dystonia based on the information
from the history, physical and neurological examination. At present, there is
no specific blood test, x-ray or brain scan to diagnose dystonia.
Dystonia may occur in a generalised (affecting
all or most of the body) or focal form (affecting one specific part of the body)
and it may result from a hereditary condition or as a result of a brain injury.
Dystonia is not fatal, but depending on the form, it can be extremely debilitating.
Some of the most common forms of dystonia are:
- Spasmodic torticollis, which affect the muscles
of the neck and shoulders causing the neck to twist to one side forward or
- Writers cramp, in which the hand and forearm
muscles contract during the act of writing.
- Blepharospasm which affects the muscles of the
eyelids forcing them to close.
- Laryngeal dystonia also known as spasmodic dysphonia
which involves involuntary spasms of the vocal cords causing interruptions
of speech and affecting voice quality.
A person can also suffer from generalised dystonia
where the condition has progressed to many parts of the body this type
of dystonia most commonly affects children and young people, causing contorted
limbs, which make normal movement impossible.
Is there any treatment available?
Medication may alleviate the symptoms of pain,
spasm and abnormal posturing and function. The range of treatments available
may have differing mechanisms of action and benefits and side effects may be
difficult to predict. At present there is no cure for dystonia.
One drug may work for one patient and not for another
and sometimes the benefit is only short-lived. Therefore, it is important that
treatment is tailored for the individual.
Dystonia, like many other chronic neurological
disorders, was recognised as a distinct entity only relatively recently. For
decades psychiatrists and neurologists argued over where to place dystonia in
the 'no mans land' between disciplines. However, 20 years ago, Dr C. David
Marsden and his colleagues published a series of papers which showed that most
patients with dystonia are suffering from an organic disorder. Research on dystonia
Dystonia Ireland is the national support group
for sufferers of dystonia. The organisation was established in 1992 by Maria
Hickey and Dr Michael Hutchinson. Dystonia Ireland aims to support, educate
society, and raise awareness of the condition.
For further information, please contact:
Maria Hickey, Dystonia Ireland, 33 Larkfield Grove,
Harolds Cross, Dublin 6W
Tel: 01-4922514, Fax 01-4922565, firstname.lastname@example.org
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