What is Opsoclonus?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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Opsoclonus is a rare medical condition that causes the eyes to move rapidly and involuntarily. The disorder can severely disrupt normal vision, and in some cases, make it impossible to focus for more than a few seconds at a time. Opsoclonus usually occurs in concurrence with one of many different neurological disorders, encephalitis, and certain cancers. Treatment for the condition typically involves identifying and treating other underlying conditions, such as chemotherapy for tumors or anticonvulsant medication to ease tremors and muscle jerks.

The most common cause of opsoclonus in infants and children under the age of ten is encephalitis, a severe bacterial or viral infection that causes inflammation in the brain. In older people, opsoclonus is usually a side effect of cancerous tumors in the lungs, genitals, breasts, or brain. A neurological disorder known as opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome can occur in people of any age, and results in random, rapid muscle movements in many body parts, including the eyes. People who suffer from Parkinson's disease or epilepsy may also develop eye twitching symptoms.


An individual with opsoclonus is likely to experience sudden, uncontrollable eye twitches which can occur several times a day. The eyes may twitch to the side or up and down without warning, which can eventually lead to headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Episodes of eye twitching vary in their intensity and the length of time it takes for vision to return to normal. The frequency of episodes is also highly variable; some patients enjoy days or weeks without experiencing symptoms, while others constantly struggle with eye problems. Both eyes are equally affected in almost all patients with the condition.

An individual who suffers from opsoclonus symptoms should be examined by a physician to determine the exact cause. Neurological doctors can take brain scans and magnetic resonance imaging tests to check for brain damage and cancerous tumors. Blood and urine tests may be conducted to check for the presence of viral or bacterial infections. Once the cause has been identified, physicians can accurately determine the best treatment measures.

Young patients with encephalitis are usually prescribed antiviral or antibiotic medications, while individuals suffering from opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome are likely to receive corticosteriods, anticonvulsants, and hormone therapy. Other seizure disorders are treated with a number of different anticonvulsants and tranquilizers to minimize the occurrence of eye problems. Cancerous tumors can sometimes be relieved with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, though surgery is often needed to completely remove cancerous tissue from the brain or other parts of the body.


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