- Include involuntary muscle contractions that cause repetitive movements or distorted postures
- Begin in a single area, such as your foot, hand or neck
- May occur during a specific action, such as handwriting
- May worsen with stress, fatigue or anxiety
- May become more noticeable over time
The impact of dystonia on your quality of life varies depending on the part of your body affected, the type of dystonia and the severity of your muscle contractions. Areas of the body affected may include:
- Eyelids. Rapid blinking or involuntary spasms causing your eyes to close (blepharospasm) can make you functionally blind.
- Neck. In cervical dystonia, contractions cause your head to twist and turn to one side, or pull forward or backward, sometimes causing pain.
- Face, head and neck. In craniofacial dystonia, your face, head or neck muscles are affected by contractions. Oromandibular dystonia affects your jaw movement or tongue and may cause slurred speech or difficulty swallowing.
- Vocal cords. Some forms of dystonia affect muscles that control your vocal cords (spasmodic dysphonia), causing a tight or whispering voice.
- Hand and forearm. Some types of dystonia only occur while you're conducting a repetitive activity. In musician's dystonia, your ability to play a specific instrument may be impaired. In writer's cramp, your hand and forearm muscles are affected while you're writing. Dystonia also may occur during other specific tasks.
When to see a doctor
Because early symptoms of dystonia often are mild, intermittent and linked to a specific activity, some people with dystonia may initially think they're just imagining a problem. If you or someone you know is experiencing involuntary muscle contractions, a doctor visit may lead to helpful treatment.