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What is Dystonia?

Dystonia is a neurological condition characterized by excessive, involuntary muscles contractions. The sustained spasms can be painful and can cause muscles to be temporarily stuck in uncomfortable positions. Muscles may also twist, shake, or tremble. Writer’s cramp, for example, is a task-specific form of dystonia. The condition can be severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life, and UTHealth Houston Neurosciences will help you manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Causes of Dystonia

The cause of dystonia is unknown, but some research indicates that cases may be genetic or related to damage to the basal ganglia, the portion of the brain that processes information about muscle contractions. It also can be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, or Wilson’s disease. Dystonia is the second most common movement disorder for patients to experience following a stroke. It often takes months after the stroke for the symptoms to appear.

Signs of Dystonia

About 1% of the populations suffers from dystonia, and women are more likely to have the condition than men. The symptoms can sometimes initially be attributed to stress or a psychological disorder. Dystonia can be classified by age at onset, body parts affected, or temporal patterns. When children are diagnosed with the condition, it usually starts in one part of the body, often the foot, and spreads. More commonly, onset is in adulthood, and in those cases, it is more likely to remain focused in one area. Most cases involve either the eyelid or neck. The condition can progress over time.

Patients may experience vision difficulties because of rapid blinking or excessive eyelid movement. Swallowing, speech, and jaw movement may be impaired. Patients often experience pain and fatigue because of the muscle contractions. The condition can lead to depression and anxiety.


Your neurologist will take a medical history and conduct a clinical examination. A series of tests will be used to eliminate other conditions and diagnose dystonia, including genetic testing to identify possible mutations linked to the condition. Blood, urine, and spinal tap testing may be conducted. A CT or MRI might be performed if your doctor needs to check for whether there might be a related disorder causing dystonia. An EMG or EEG might also be ordered.


Several options are available to manage the symptoms of dystonia, and your doctor will determine the best plan for your case. Treatment may include certain medications and therapies. Surgical options, including severing the affected nerves or deep brain stimulation, may also be an option. With deep brain stimulation, electrodes are implanted in the affected areas of the brain and are connected to a small device similar to a pacemaker. Botox injections are also commonly used to successfully reduce the effects of certain neurological conditions, including blocking muscle contractions.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

Our dedicated team uses advanced technology to accurately diagnose and treat dystonia. We work in multidisciplinary teams of specialists and therapists who share insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes, as well as lower costs and time savings. Throughout treatment, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.