Tardive Dystonia

Tardive dystonia is a movement disorder characterized by muscle contractions and spasms that cause irregular and uncomfortable movements and postures. Tardive dystonia symptoms may vary among patients and range in intensity depending upon the severity of the condition.

What are the common symptoms of tardive dystonia?

Very often, tardive dystonia involves the muscles of the face, but the movements caused by the disorder may be more generalized and include other parts of the body as well. Symptoms of the disorder are often characterized according to where they occur in the body. Common symptoms include:

  • Spasmodic torticollis – This symptom occurs when the muscles of the neck contract and pull the head down, causing an abnormal and uncomfortable posture. This is often the most painful type of tardive dystonia movement.
  • Blepharospasm – This symptom affects the muscles that control eyelid contractions and is characterized by movements that appear as prolonged blinking. Blepharospasm can result in vision problems and the inability to perform many everyday tasks, including reading or driving.
  • Diurnal bruxism – This symptom results in rhythmic, forceful contractions of the jaw muscles and causes teeth grinding while awake (but not while sleeping). Diurnal bruxism can result in severe pain and significant tooth damage.
  • Dysphonia – Dysphonia affects the muscles involved in breathing and speaking. Patients experiencing dysphonia often speak with a strangled and raspy voice and can sound as if they are out of breath.
  • Ballismus – Ballismus causes the arms or legs to involuntarily jut out from the body. Some individuals with this form of dystonia note that their movements are sometimes mistaken for aggression.

When do tardive dystonia symptoms appear and how are they diagnosed?

Symptoms of tardive dystonia can appear gradually, so it may not be immediately apparent that victims are dealing with a serious movement disorder. This, along with other factors, often makes it difficult to diagnose tardive dystonia and related movement disorders.

There is no one test that can determine if a patient has the disorder; instead, doctors must carefully watch the movements at various intervals to determine whether or not they are involuntary and whether they worsen or improve over time.

Individuals who suspect they have tardive dystonia should keep a diary of their symptoms, noting the location and severity of the movements, as well as how often they occur.