Dystonia: Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ 920w

This article was originally published in the Dystonia Dialogue.

What is dystonia?

Dystonia is a brain disorder resulting in involuntary, abnormal postures or movements of the body due to excessive muscle contractions. Dystonia may be the only neurological disorder a person has, or the dystonia may be part of a medical condition or disease with additional neurological findings.

How is dystonia diagnosed?

At this time, there is not a single test to confirm or rule out a dystonia diagnosis. Instead, the diagnosis depends on a physician’s ability to observe symptoms and obtain a patient history. Medical tests may be ordered to try to identify the cause for the development of dystonia, but a cause is often not found.

The dystonia diagnostic process may include:

  • Patient history
  • Family history
  • Physical examination to assess functioning of the brain and nervous system
  • Laboratory studies such as blood and urine tests, and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Electrical recording techniques, such as electromyography (EMG) or electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Genetic testing for inherited forms of dystonia
  • Additional tests and screenings to uncover other possible causes for the dystonia

A movement disorder specialist is a neurologist with qualifications specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of movement disorders such as dystonia.

Do specific foods or vitamins affect dystonia?

There is no known correlation between dystonia and diet. Generally speaking, individuals with dystonia should have a nutritious diet sufficient in calories, considering the amount of muscle activity experienced throughout the day. Stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine may make symptoms worse. Alcohol may make symptoms temporarily better (or worse) in some cases. Nutritional supplements and vitamins have not generally been shown to cause dramatic improvement in movement disorders. Substances that make a person more relaxed, calm, or sleepy may non-specifically improve symptoms. It is important for individuals to discuss any vitamins and supplements taken with their movement disorders specialist to guard against potential interactions or safety concerns. Certain foods can interfere with the absorption of specific medications.

Is tremor a symptom of dystonia?

Tremor is frequently, but not always, seen with dystonia. Differentiating between the two can be difficult in some individuals with dystonia. Tremor is an involuntary, rhythmic muscle contraction leading to shaking movements in one or more parts of the body, and dystonia is characterized by excessive muscle contractions causing abnormal, often repetitive, muscle movements and/or postures. Dystonic movements can be patterned and twisting and may resemble tremor. Individuals with cervical dystonia may have a head or hand tremor. Individuals with focal hand dystonia may have an associated writing tremor of the hand. Researchers continue to examine the relationship between tremor and dystonia.

Many thanks to past DMRF Clinical Fellow Christopher Groth, MD for reviewing the content of this article.

Look for additional FAQ in future issues of the Dystonia Dialogue. If you have a question you wish to see addressed, email us at: contact@dystonia-foundation.org

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advancing research for improved dystonia treatments and ultimately a cure, promoting awareness, and supporting the well-being of affected individuals and families.