Myoclonus is a sudden jerking of a group of muscles or single muscle. The involuntary movements can be a tightening of the muscles called positive myoclonus, or a relaxing of the muscles called negative myoclonus. In mild cases, such as the hiccups, there aren’t any treatments or lifestyle changes necessary to treat the condition. However, when the myoclonus is severe enough to affect walking, eating or talking, treatment is necessary.
When myoclonus is the result of epilepsy, the condition is known as epileptic myoclonus. Physiological myoclonus is the normal, mild form that includes things like sleep starts, hiccups and infant muscle twitches. Symptomatic myoclonus is the result of an underlying medical condition, such as stroke, brain tumor, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, oxygen deprivation, or poisoning. Essential myoclonus occurs on its own is an often unexplained.
There isn’t any specific test used to diagnose myoclonus. Instead, tests are done to rule out other conditions and as a result of ruling out other conditions, a diagnosis of myoclonus may be made. Myoclonus may be diagnosed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), laboratory testing of blood and/or urine samples, electroencephalography (EEG), and electromyography (EMG).
In cases of myoclonus that are caused by a tumor or a spinal cord injury, surgery may be done to remove the tumor or repair the spinal cord injury. In some cases, this surgical intervention may alleviate or reduce the frequency and/or intensity of the myoclonus.
If a brain injury or abnormality or an inoperable spinal cord injury is the reason for the myoclonus, Botox injections may be helpful in treating myoclonus. Deep brain stimulation may is helpful sometimes.
Prescription medications, including anticonvulsants or tranquilizers, may be used to control the muscle jerks. While these prescriptions are usually effective in controlling the condition, there are side effects that must be considered prior to taking the medications. Lethargy, dizziness, sore throat, and weakness are some common side effects. Stomach upset, vomiting, and/or diarrhea may also occur.
A child with myoclonus should be watched carefully when playing, especially when the activities involve balancing or climbing. Any activity in which a muscle jerk may cause injury should be avoided or carefully monitored.
A person with moderate to severe myoclonus shouldn’t drive, especially if the muscle jerks affect both arms, both legs and/or the head and neck. Involuntary muscle jerks may lead to an accident. Myoclonus may also affect job choices, especially when the job uses precision movements or heavy machinery.
Myoclonus is sometimes a life-altering condition; however, with medications and/or other treatments, the condition may only minimal lifestyle modifications.