What is Dyskinesia?

Kathy R

Dyskinesia is a type of neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle spasms or “tics.” There are five different types of this disorder, and in most cases all are actually caused by some larger underlying condition. Sometimes people develop tics and tremors as a stand-alone condition, but it’s much more common for the spasms to be a sign of a different problem or a symptom of some sort of traumatic brain injury. The condition isn’t usually curable, but certain therapeutic treatments can help patients control and reduce their tremors. A lot of this depends on the root cause, though. Treating a brain injury often requires a really different approach from treating a degenerative condition like Parkinson’s disease.

Tardive dyskinesia may occur as a side effect of antipsychotic medications.
Tardive dyskinesia may occur as a side effect of antipsychotic medications.

Basic Characteristics

People who suffer from this disorder typically experience involuntary shaking or twitching in the muscles. It’s often most noticeable in the hands and face, but it can happen anywhere — even internally. Most people find that the condition starts small and understated but grows more noticeable with time. A small twitch in the hand may progress to violent shaking in the arm that lasts for several seconds, for instance. Sufferers in advanced stages often find it difficult to carry on conversations and do normal daily things, but a lot of this depends on the type and advancement of the disorder.

Brain injury may cause myoclonus dykinesia.
Brain injury may cause myoclonus dykinesia.

Primary Causes

In nearly all cases, these shakes are a symptom of something else. They are very commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, for instance, and are almost always a sign of brain chemistry problems. Certain medications can also be a contributing cause. Different types of the disorder often have more distinctive underlying causes, which can make an accurate diagnosis a key part of any treatment plan.

Dyskinesia can be caused by multiple sclerosis.
Dyskinesia can be caused by multiple sclerosis.

Tardive and Tremor Types

Tardive dyskinesia generally occurs late in life. It can be a side effect of certain antipsychotic medications, particularly trifluoperazine, haloperidol, metoclopramide and fluphenazine. The disorder usually presents itself in a patient's face. Symptoms may include grimacing, chewing, abnormal tongue movement and swinging of the jaw. Sometimes the condition becomes permanent, even if the affected person stops taking the drug causing it. The longer someone takes medications of this kind, the more likely he or she is to experience this sort of lasting damage.

Trembling may occur as a result of dyskinesia.
Trembling may occur as a result of dyskinesia.

Tremor types, on the other hand, usually present themselves as trembling, usually in the legs, hands, head, trunk or voice. This shaking is typically more noticeable when a person intentionally extends the limbs, such as to emphasize a point or to greet another person. This type often starts in a person’s dominant hand and steadily becomes worse over time.

Dystonia and Choria

In most cases, the main symptom of dystonia dyskinesia is involuntary muscle contractions. People with dystonia generally appear to twist and distort their limbs, moving them wildly. This disorder can be traced to abnormal function in the brain's cerebral cortex. It is often genetic.

Chorea dyskinesia, which is named after the Greek word for dance, is usually characterized by jerky body movements. Since an affected person's body often repeats these moves several times in a sequence, it can be compared to dance steps, especially if the chorea occurs in the legs or feet. These movements are generally concentrated in a patient’s upper body, face, arms and legs. Sometimes a person with chorea gives the appearance of being impatient or fidgety.

Myoclonus Diagnoses

Those with myoclonus types typically suffer brief but intense spasms of involuntary movement. Seizures are often considered a form of this sort of disorder, for instance. There are many causes of this type of the disease, including brain injury, stroke, shock, epilepsy and poisoning. It can affect almost any part of the body, and even the entire body at the same time.

Common Treatment Options

Treatment usually focuses on the underlying cause, then looks to calm the tremors as a secondary priority. Sometimes a solution can be as easy as stopping the use of certain medications, but it can also involve therapy, targeted exercises, and in some cases surgery. There isn’t usually a cure, and depending on the cause there may not be a way to effectively stop or reduce tremors. In these cases, patients are usually provided support and resources in order to deal with their condition and to manage progressive degeneration.

Trembling in the hands may make everyday activities such as lifting a drink difficult.
Trembling in the hands may make everyday activities such as lifting a drink difficult.

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Discussion Comments


I watch TV sometimes and hear all of the commercials for lawyers trying to solicit business. One of the biggest “ailments” that I hear them talking about is tardive dyskinesia. I never had a clue what it was until I read this article. Thanks for the great info! Now I know what they are talking about.

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