Myoclonus

What is Myoclonus?

Myoclonus is not a disease but a symptom of an infection or a condition such as a stroke, liver or kidney failure, poisoning, brain tumor, and other disorders. It is caused by prolonged deprivation of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia). It is usually one of several disorders caused by the underlying condition.

Groups of muscles that are affected contract briefly as if an electric shock ran through the body. These contractions can also have psychological causes and be physiological (for example when falling asleep or in the case of hiccups).

Myoclonus can be focal (located in one area), segmental (affecting contiguous areas), multifocal (independently present in different areas), generalized and can be also cause by some medications or brain disorders.

What are the Symptoms of Myoclonus?

Myoclonus becomes evident with the appearance of jerks or twitches. They can occur in patterns or sequences or there may be no pattern to them at all. They can be occasional or frequent. The twitching is uncontrollable. It may begin in one area of the body and then appear in other areas, too. At its most severe, it can impact the ability to walk, talk, or even eat.

Myoclonus Causes

There are various causes of Myoclonus which can occur on its own, however, it is often associated with various nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Symptomatic Myoclonus is caused as a result of one or more the following conditions:

  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Infection
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Head injury
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Lipid storage disease
  • Drug poisoning
  • Chemical poisoning

Posthypoxic Myoclonus can be caused by any oxygen deprivation to the brain (also referred to as hypoxia) for a prolonged period of time.

The condition of epileptic myoclonic jerks is caused in patients with epilepsy which is a brain condition that can lead to seizures. Myoclonic jerks can also occur in healthy persons as they fall asleep, most commonly in the legs and sometimes in the arms.

How is Myoclonus Treated?

The focus of treatment for myoclonus usually is on treating the main condition; however, treating the symptom of myoclonus may be part of that. Clonazepam is one of the most common drugs used to treat myoclonus. A small dosage is usually prescribed by a doctor and then increased as necessary.

Other drugs that are used to treat myoclonus include primiodone, levetiracetam, phenytoin, and barbiturates. These are drugs typically used to treat epilepsy as they slow down the central nervous system.

Multiple drugs are sometimes used in treating myoclonus because some drugs do not work on their own but when used with other drugs are effective.

Myoclonus Prevention

Some types of Myoclonus can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. In persons with epilepsy, anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) control electrical activity in the brain that causes myoclonic jerks and seizures. Anticonvulsants, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sedatives are typical AEDs. These drugs must be taken on a regular basis to aid the prevention of seizures.

Causes of symptomatic Myoclonus due to conditions such as kidney and liver failure, drug poisoning, chemical poisoning, and stroke can usually be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Some studies show that Fentanyl and Midazolam prevent myoclonic jerks shortly after they are administered as these drugs inhibit the central nervous system.

Getting plenty of sleep at night can prevent seizures in children who suffer from Myoclonus from light sensitivity.