Myoclonus: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


Myoclonus is characterized by a brief, rapid, involuntary, jerky and shock-like movement, which consists of single or repetitive muscle discharges that can happen due to nervous system changes, metabolic problems or reaction to medications or as a consequence of the practice of physical activity or anxiety, for example.

This sudden spasm in most cases happens in one of the limbs and can vary in intensity, however it can also affect the speech and intestinal muscles, so that speech and swallowing may be difficult in some cases.

The treatment of myoclonus is indicated in cases where spasms are frequent and interfere with the person’s daily life. surgery in the most severe cases.

myoclonus symptoms

Generally, people with myoclonus describe a kind of sudden, brief, involuntary muscle spasm, like a shock, which can vary in intensity and frequency. The spasm can be in just one part of the body or in several, and in very severe cases, it can interfere with eating and the way you talk or walk.

What is nocturnal myoclonus

Nocturnal myoclonus or muscle spasms during sleep, is a disorder that happens during sleep, when the person feels that they are falling or out of balance and usually happens when they are falling asleep, in which the arms or legs move involuntarily, as if they were muscle spasms.

It is not yet known for sure what the cause of these movements is, but it is believed to consist of a kind of brain conflict, in which the system that keeps the person awake interferes with the system that induces sleep, resulting in spasm.

Possible causes

Myoclonus can be triggered by several situations, so it can be classified into a few main types according to their cause:

1. Physiological myoclonus

This type of myoclonus occurs in normal and healthy people and rarely needs treatment, as it can be related to normal situations in the body. Some of the causes of physiological myoclonus are hiccups, tremors or spasms due to anxiety or physical exercise and nocturnal myoclonus, which is characterized by muscle spasms during sleep onset that may be related to nerve changes.

2. Idiopathic myoclonus

In idiopathic myoclonus, myoclonic movement appears spontaneously, without being associated with other symptoms or diseases, and may interfere with day-to-day activities. Its cause is still unknown, but it is usually associated with hereditary factors.

3. Epileptic myoclonus

This type of myoclonus is partly due to an epileptic disorder, where seizures are produced that cause rapid movements in both the arms and legs.

4. Secondary myoclonus

Also known as symptomatic myoclonus, it usually occurs as a result of another disease or medical condition, such as a head or spinal cord injury, infection, kidney or liver failure, Gaucher disease, poisoning, prolonged oxygen deprivation, drug reaction, illness autoimmune and metabolic.

In addition to these, there are other conditions related to the central nervous system, which can also result in secondary myoclonus, such as stroke, brain tumor, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, corticobasal degeneration and frontotemporal dementia.

How is the treatment done?

There are many cases in which treatment is not necessary, however, when it is justified, it usually consists of treating the cause or the disease that is in its origin, however, in some cases it is not possible to solve the cause and only the symptoms. The drugs and techniques used are as follows:

  • Tranquilizers: Clonazepam is the most prescribed drug in these cases to combat the symptoms of myoclonus, however it can cause side effects such as loss of coordination and drowsiness.
  • Anticonvulsants: These are medications that control epileptic seizures, which also help to reduce the symptoms of myoclonus. The most commonly used anticonvulsants in these cases are levetiracetam, valproic acid and primidone. The most common side effects of valproic acid are nausea, levetiracetam is tiredness and dizziness, and primidone is sedation and nausea.
  • Therapies: Botox injections can help treat various forms of myoclonus, particularly when only one part of the body is affected. Botulinum toxin blocks the release of a chemical messenger that causes muscle contraction.

In addition, in cases where myoclonus is related to the presence of a tumor or injury to the brain or spinal cord, for example, surgery may be recommended.

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