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More on Myoclonus

Neurology and Neuroscience


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About Myoclonus

Myoclonus, an involuntary jerking of the muscles, is often a symptom of a nervous system disorder but it can also result from other health problems or injuries. Causes include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Infection
  • Head or spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Chemical or drug poisoning
  • Hypoxia (prolonged oxygen deprivation to the brain)

People with myoclonus experience sudden, brief, involuntary movements or jerks in one or several parts of the body; these movements cannot be suppressed. The jerks result from muscle contractions (positive myoclonus) or the sudden loss of muscle contractions, called inhibitions (or negative myoclonus). Stimuli such as sudden sounds, light, visual threats, or movements can trigger the jerks.

Diagnosis of Myoclonus

Neurologists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital have considerable experience determining the cause of myoclonus and finding the most effective treatment for each patient. Our neurology and neurosurgery departments consistently rank among the top five in the nation in US News and World Report, and number one in New York City.

Medical Treatment for Myoclonus

Treatment for myoclonus starts with finding and treating the underlying cause. Various medications can reduce or eliminate myoclonic jerks. Doctors often treat myoclonus with one or more of the following drugs: clonazepam, a type of tranquilizer; sodium valproate, an anticonvulsant; and levetiracetam, an anticonvulsant.

If the jerking movement is localized to just one part of the body, neurologists can also treat myclonus with botulinum toxin injection therapy, which can relax the muscles for several months, allowing patients to maintain more normal posture and movement.

Surgical Treatment for Myoclonus

If a patient's myoclonus is caused by a tumor on the spine or brain, neurosurgeons may be able to alleviate symptoms by removing the tumor.

Research for Myoclonus

Researchers at Columbia's Center for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders are conducting studies to find the most effective ways to improve the care and management of people with myoclonus.

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