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Two years ago, I met someone with a condition called dystonia. Even as someone with a science background, I had never heard of the disorder—in fact, I would not have noticed his illness without being told since the symptoms of dystonia are mostly controlled by medication. Because so much about the human brain has yet to be understood, neurological conditions like dystonia are often overlooked. However, this lack of knowledge does not lessen the importance of being able to recognize and treat such disorders.

Dystonia occurs when any number of muscles in the body contract involuntarily, causing spasms, repetitive movements, and/or abnormal postures. There are many forms of dystonia, typically determined by individual details like age of onset and problem areas, as well as cause, which is often either genetic or otherwise unknown. In addition, dystonia can be acquired through environmental toxin exposure or physical trauma or exist as a sign of a larger condition like stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

Hand cramps are often an early symptom of developing dystonia. 

Image Source: VOISIN/PHANIE

Symptoms of dystonia vary depending on the type. One of the more common early signs is cramps in the hands or feet, especially after tasks like writing or running. Stress or tiredness can exacerbate dystonia, leading to possible spasms in regions like the neck and eyes. Other notable problem areas include the jaw, tongue, voice box, and vocal cords, typically resulting in temporary speech or eating difficulties.

Dystonia is usually diagnosed via a physical examination and may involve a series of tests depending on the symptoms in question. As mentioned, since the cause behind dystonia has yet to be fully determined, the disorder cannot be prevented or cured. However, an array of treatment options such as botox injections, prescription medication, and physical therapy are now available to help curb spasms and reduce the effects. In very severe cases, surgical procedures such as denervation may also be considered.

Compared to illnesses that manifest themselves through distinct physical changes, neurological disorders such as dystonia tend to go unnoticed. Nonetheless, such conditions still have an impact on an affected individual’s life, whether minimal or severe, so it is critical to give them just as much attention and concern.

Feature Image Source: Muscles by Thomas Fisher Rare Book Libary

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