Muscle twitches are involuntary muscle contractions that involve a small section of a muscle. More often than not, these resolve on their own. However, these could sometimes be an indication of an underlying neurological condition, especially if they are accompanied by certain symptoms.
Muscle twitching, which is medically known as fasciculation, refers to small, involuntary muscle contractions that could affect any muscle in the human body. These contractions usually affect a small segment of a muscle. At times, such uncontrolled movements of the muscle fibers can even be seen under the skin.
More often than not, fasciculations are benign and transient. However, medical help must be sought if these occur frequently, and are also accompanied by other symptoms such as spasms, cramps, and muscle weakness. Though occasional episodes of muscle twitching all over the body, or in one particular part of the body may not necessarily be an indicator of a neurological condition, do consult a doctor to be on a safer side.
Benign Fasciculation Syndrome
Benign or harmless muscle twitches are muscle contractions that are brought on by dehydration, nutritional deficiency, muscle fatigue, or anxiety. Excessive consumption of caffeine, or prolonged use of drugs such as diuretics, corticosteroids, or estrogen could also be contributory factors. Such involuntary contractions often occur in the eyelids or calf muscles.
Benign fasciculations are not really a cause of serious concern. These resolve on their own, and usually don’t last for more than a couple of days. Those who often experience such muscle contractions need to cut down on the intake of caffeine. Increase your intake of water. Follow a healthy diet and an exercise regimen. Since stress or anxiety could trigger muscle twitches, practice relaxation techniques to stay calm and relaxed.
Neurological Conditions that May Cause Muscle Twitches
Fasciculations can be caused due to a wide range of reasons. Listed below are some of the causes of muscle twitches all over the body.
Peripheral Nerve Hyperexcitability
Peripheral nerve excitability is an umbrella term that includes a set of conditions such as benign fasciculation syndrome, cramp fasciculation syndrome, and neuromyotonia. As mentioned earlier, benign fasciculations are harmless. In case of cramp fasciculation syndrome, the muscle twitches are accompanied by cramps, stiffness, exercise intolerance, and muscle aches. Neuromyotonia, which is also known as Isaacs’ syndrome, is a medical condition that is characterized by continuous motor activity. The exact cause of this condition is not known. It is believed that genetic factors, presence of cancer, or an autoimmune response could be responsible for causing this condition. Cramps, excessive sweating, and muscle twitching and stiffness in calf muscles, legs, and the torso are some of the symptoms of this condition.
Treatment: Doctors may follow a symptomatic approach for the treatment. For instance, anticonvulsant drugs called phenytoin and carbamazepine may be prescribed for treating muscle spasms, pain, and stiffness. Use of immunosuppressants may provide relief in some cases.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is also called motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neuromuscular disease in which the communication link between the brain and the voluntary muscles is disrupted due to the degeneration of motor neurons in the brain and the spinal cord.
When the nerve cells that are responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement waste away or die, the affected individual is unable to perform routine activities. Twitching, muscle spasms, stiffness of muscles, difficulty in breathing, and poor coordination are some of the symptoms of this medical condition. This progresses to muscle weakness, slurred and nasal speech, or difficulty in chewing or swallowing. In the later stages, a patient could become completely paralyzed.
Treatment: The use of a drug called riluzole is often recommended. Though this drug cannot cure ALS, it may slow down the progression of this condition.
The term ‘muscular dystrophies’ (MD) refers to a group of inherited muscle diseases that are characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement. Muscular dystrophy can occur at any point of time in life. Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, Becker muscular dystrophy, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, myotonic muscular dystrophy, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, and congenital muscular dystrophy are some of the forms of this condition. Around half of the cases of MD that are reported are that of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). This condition only affects boys. Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and the pelvic region, frequent falls, difficulty in getting up from a lying or a sitting position, and progressive loss of motor skills are some of the symptoms of DMD.
Treatment: The aim of the treatment is to improve muscle strength, and slow down the progression of the disease. Prednisone is a corticosteroid which is prescribed in some cases. However, prolonged use of this drug needs to be avoided as certain health risks are associated with its long-term use. The patient may also be asked to perform certain flexibility exercises. The affected individuals may need to use braces, walkers, or wheelchairs.
Weak Muscles (Myopathy)
The term ‘myopathy’ is used to signify neuromuscular disorders, wherein the main symptom is muscle weakness that occurs due to the dysfunction of muscle fibers. Patients also suffer from muscle cramps, stiffness, and spasms. While muscular dystrophies are an inherited form of myopathy, certain forms may be acquired.
Treatment: The treatment would vary, depending on the underlying cause. Drug therapy and physical therapy are both integral to the treatment. The affected individual may need to use braces for support. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Spinal muscular dystrophy (SMA) refers to a group of genetic conditions that are characterized by degeneration of the voluntary muscles in the arms and legs. This condition occurs when the survival motor neuron gene (SMN1) is abnormal or missing. The function of this gene is to produce a protein that is essential to motor neurons. In the absence of this protein, the motor neurons in the spinal cord degenerate, and eventually die. SMA is categorized into four types. The diagnosis of SMA type I, type II, and type III is made by 6 months, 2 years, and 3 years respectively. The type IV is the adult form, wherein the symptoms appear in the 20s or 30s. Muscle weakness, tremors, or twitching are some of the symptoms of type IV SMA. Kennedy’s disease is a rare form of SMA that affects people in the age group of 20 to 40 years. Tremors, muscle cramps, and twitching are some of the symptoms that appear initially. Limb weakness, and difficulty in speaking and swallowing are other symptoms. In later stages, the affected individual may need a wheelchair.
Treatment: Drug therapy and physical therapy may help to alleviate symptoms. In some forms of SMA, the spine may become curved. Under such circumstances, the patient may need to use a brace. Surgery may be required in some cases. Assistive technologies and respiratory care may be required.
Benign muscle twitches come and go on their own. No special treatment is necessary for these twitches. However, it would be best to seek medical help at the earliest, if muscle twitching lasts for more than a few days, and is also accompanied by other symptoms.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.