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Dystonia

Dystonia involves abnormal tone or posture of contracted muscles. Part of the brain's job is to suppress muscle movement. Dystonia occurs when the brain allows too much muscle activity, resulting in muscle contraction in the face, neck, hands, trunk or legs.

Movement disorder experts at The University of Kansas Health System provide leading dystonia treatment to help you manage symptoms and achieve the best possible quality of life.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a type of movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle contractions or spasms in the body. Dystonia is about 10 times rarer than Parkinson's disease and it affects slightly more women than men. The average age of onset is in the 30s and 40s.

It's not completely understood what causes dystonia. However, research points to possible dysfunction in areas of the brain that help control movement. Genetic factors are also believed to play a role. Sometimes, dystonia can occur after a stroke or brain injury. Other times, there is no known cause.

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Types of dystonia

There are several forms of dystonia with symptoms that appear outwardly different, but all forms share a repetitive, patterned involuntary muscle contraction.

  • Focal dystonia affects 1 part of the body.

  • Hemidystonia affects a leg and arm on 1 side of the body.

  • Multifocal dystonia affects at least 2 body parts.

  • Segmental dystonia affects at least 2 body parts next to each other.

Dystonia symptoms and risks

Dystonia can involve excessive blinking, movement in the lower face, involuntary repetitive movements of the mouth and face, jaw clenching, lip pursing and grimacing. It can cause contraction in the neck, hands, fingers and feet. It can result in leg dragging or foot cramping, and can cause challenges with speech.

Dystonia diagnosis and screening

There is no definitive test for dystonia. Instead, diagnosing dystonia is a multistep process that involves a variety of diagnostic evaluations. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, perform a physical exam, take a detailed health history and discuss any genetic indicators for dystonia.

Some tests used to help diagnose dystonia include:

  • Blood or urine tests
  • Electroencephalography or electromyography
  • Genetic tests

Additional tests may be ordered to help rule out any other causes of your symptoms.

Woman holding her neck in discomfort.

BOTOX for dystonia

BOTOX injections weaken overachieving muscles that cause the repetitive movements, twisting and abnormal postures associated with dystonia. Find out how this minimally invasive treatment blocks the signals that cause the contractions.

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Dystonia treatment

Oral medications can help control dystonia symptoms, but may bring side effects. Botulinum toxin (BOTOX®) injections are useful, weakening the overachieving muscles and blocking the signals that cause contraction. Deep brain stimulation may also provide symptom control. However, it is less effective in dystonia treatment than in Parkinson's disease and essential tremor.

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Why choose us for dystonia treatment?

  • Our experts were among the first in the world to use BOTOX injections to treat movement disorder symptoms. Our team offers unparalleled experience in this dystonia treatment.
  • Our interdisciplinary team provides comprehensive care to support you over time. Our treatment options include a full range of medical and surgical therapies to provide you with the level of intervention you need as you need it.
  • Our care providers are also researchers. They are dedicated not only to caring for patients today, but to driving research we hope will yield cures in the future.
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Leading research and clinical trials

As part of one of the nation's premier academic medical centers, our care providers are committed to research and scientific discovery through the University of Kansas Medical Center. We can often include our patients in potentially lifesaving clinical trials and treatment options not available anywhere else.

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