Myoclonus is a term used to describe the jerking or twitching of a muscle. Healthy people experience myoclonus on a regular basis and it can also be the symptom of an underlying medical condition which requires medical attention. This involuntary muscle movement can take a wide variety of forms, appearing in any muscle in the body at any time, depending on the underlying cause of the myoclonus.
Some examples of normal myoclonus include hypnic jerks, which often happen as people are falling asleep, and hiccups. This type of myoclonus is not a cause for concern, although it can be startling or irritating. People can also experience random twitches and muscle spasms which are not associated with a medical issue. An athlete, for example, might twitch after a heavy workout, and sometimes the nervous system experiences a random glitch which generates a twitch for no apparent reason.
In people with nervous system disorders, myoclonus can sometimes be a tell-tale symptom. Conditions like head trauma, brain damage, and progressive neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy may have myoclonic jerks among their symptoms, as can a range of other neurological problems. Muscle twitches are also associated with kidney, liver, and heart problems. Abnormal myoclonus tends to appear at greater frequency, with more intensity, or at unusual times, and it may involve a series of muscle spasms, rather than a single twitch or jerk.
When twitching or jerking develops suddenly or feels abnormal, patients should seek medical attention to find out what is going on. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between normal myoclonus in healthy people, and muscle jerks which indicate an underlying pathology which has not been diagnosed. In either case, it's a good idea to consult a neurologist. The neurologist can interview the patient to learn more about the myoclonus, and he or she may recommend testing which can be used to determine the underlying cause, such as EEGs of the brain, along with imaging studies like CT scans and MRIs.
If a neurologist cannot find a cause for a myoclonus but the twitching is irritating, he or she may have medications to recommend which could help the patient manage the issue. In patients with neurological or other disorders which are causing myoclonic jerks, addressing the underlying condition can resolve or reduce the twitching. Neurological conditions may not necessarily be curable, but their symptoms can often be managed with medication, surgery, and other treatments to keep patients more comfortable.