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Patients who suffer from dystonia have muscle contractions that cause them to have abnormal postures or involuntary movements, which can be repetitive or twisting. Different parts of the body can be affected by dystonia. For example, a patient may have symptoms in her neck, in which her neck muscles turn, which may occur more often if she is under stress.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke listed several classifications of dystonias, which differ by what parts of the body are affected: generalized dystonia (all or most), focal dystonia (specific part), multifocal dystonia (two or more parts that are not related), segmental dystonia (two or more parts that are adjacent to each other), and hemidystonia (an arm and leg that are on the same side). Other types of dystonia are characterized by specific symptoms. For example, cervical dystonia affects the muscles that control how the head is positioned, which results in a patient's head turned on one side of her body; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that this is the most common type of focal dystonia.
The MayoClinic.com pointed out that while the exact cause of dystonia is unknown, there are several factors that may contribute to the onset, including abnormal communication between neurons in the basal ganglia. Other disorders that affect movement are linked to abnormalities in the basal ganglia, such as Parkinson's disease. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke added that defects in several neurotransmitters are thought to be involved in the disorder; these include serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine.
So how are dystonias treated? Patients may take medications that affect these neurotransmitters, though the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke noted that patients react differently to the medications, which include clonazepam, levodopa and baclofen, and that doctors may need to prescribe several medications to find the best one for the patient.