What is it?
Dystonia is a neurological disorder that affects the movements of those who are inflicted. The main characteristic of the disorder is involuntary muscle contractions. The contractions force parts of the body into abnormal positions, which could be potentially painful. Dystonia can affect any part of the body and affects more than 300,000 people in North America. Trained neurologists or specialists in movement disorders usually diagnose dystonia, and it is still a very difficult disorder to get diagnosed with. It is also associated with schizophrenia, but often occurs independently of it. In a survey for the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA), the following facts were reported:
  • Patients had to consult an average of four doctors (and as many as 25 in one case) over an average of five years (and as many as 10 years) before receiving a diagnosis
  • 71% had difficulty in obtaining a correct diagnosis (70% reported that physicians who they consulted were unaware of the disorder)
  • 75% reported they consulted general practitioners and only 4% of the respondents reported being correctly diagnosed by general practitioners
  • On the average, patients had to travel 160 miles for treatments

What are the symptoms?
Generalized dystonia (which is also called idiopathic torsion dystonia) can affect many different areas of the body. Generalized dystonia most often develops in the early teen years and usually affects the lower extremities. Another category for dystonia diagnosis is focal dystonia. Focal dystonias only affect specific body parts, but those afflicted may have more than one type of focal dystonia. The focal type of dystonia typically attacks at mid life, in the 40s and 50s. According to the Disability Awareness Newsletter (found at http://users.arn.net/~tahowell/dystonia.htm#what) the following are the most common forms of focal dystonia:
  • Spasmodic torticollis (or cervical dystonia): affects muscles in neck, head, and spine that cause the head to turn to one side
  • Blepharospasm: causes involuntary contraction of the eyelids holding them closed for indefinite periods
  • Oromandibular dystonia: affects jaw, lips, or tongue causing the jaw to be held open or clamped shut
  • Orofacial-buccal dystonia (Meige's or Brughel's syndrome):a combination of blepharospasm and oromandibular dystonia
  • Spasmodic dysphonia: affects muscles that control the vocal cords causing halting, strained, or a breathless whisper voice
  • Writer's cramp (or occupational dystonia): symptoms are triggered when the sufferer attempts to write or perform other fine hand functions, such as playing a musical instrument

How is it treated?
Treatment of any kind of dystonia involves medications that are designed to reduce muscle spasms. Surgery is needed in rare cases, but it isn’t usually a good option. The most often prescribed treatment for dystonia is Botox injections into the specific muscles that are spasming. Botox is a toxin derived from the Botulism Type A strain. It weakens the muscles by blocking nerve signals to that area. The Botox injection is usually only good for anywhere from a few weeks to a month because new nerve endings begin to grow back. It sometimes takes up to a week for the Botox to start working. Botox is beginning to be used for cosmetic surgery to paralyze parts of the face thus reducing certain wrinkles.


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