Myoclonus is a muscle twitch or sudden, involuntary jerking of a muscle or group of muscles. Myoclonic twitches or jerks usually are caused by sudden muscle contractions, called positive myoclonus, or by muscle relaxation, called negative myoclonus.

Myoclonic jerks may occur alone or in sequence, in a pattern or without pattern. They may occur infrequently or many times each minute. Myoclonus sometimes occurs in response to an external event or when a person attempts to make a movement. The twitching cannot be controlled by the person experiencing it.

In some cases, myoclonus begins in one region of the body and spreads to muscles in other areas. More severe cases of myoclonus can affect movement and limit a person's ability to move or walk. These types of myoclonus may indicate an underlying disorder in the brain or nerves.

Myoclonic jerking often is a symptom of a nervous disorder, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Myoclonic jerks commonly occur in persons with epilepsy, a disorder in which the electrical activity in the brain becomes disordered, leading to seizures.

Causes

In addition to being caused by epileptic seizures, myoclonus also can be triggered by:

  • Infection
  • Stress
  • Head or spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Lipid storage disease
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chemical or drug poisoning
  • Prolonged oxygen deprivation to the brain

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Diagnosing Myoclonus

During a history and physical exam, our movement disorders neurologists observe your movements in the exam room or on a video you bring. We may recommend further diagnostic options to help us better define an underlying cause of your movements or to rule out disorders:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain or spine
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) to study your brain waves
  • Electromyograph (EMG) to assess muscle activity
  • Blood tests

In some cases, we may refer you to our Sleep Disorders Center or to our Comprehensive Epilepsy Center for further evaluation. 

Types of Myoclonus

Types of Myoclonus

Treating Myoclonus

Myoclonus can be difficult to treat. Our goal in many cases is to reduce your level of movement so you can perform activities of daily living.

Research

Our participation in national and international clinical trials for movement disorders provides you with access to the latest options in medications and treatments, often long before they come to market.

Enroll in a clinical trial

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of myoclonus?

Physician Expertise: All of our movement disorders specialists are board certified neurologists who have received additional fellowship training in movement disorders.

Multidisciplinary Team: Because movement disorders overlap with a number of other nervous system disorders, we have an integrated network of neurology subspecialists who work together, including epilepsy specialists and sleep medicine specialists. In addition, we have physical therapists who specialize in movement disorders and a neurology social worker who connects you to medical and community resources.

Our Providers

Additional Information

If your twitching or jerking movements are not occurring frequently, please make a video of the movements using your smart phone or other device and bring it to your appointment. Bring any past records that you have related to neurological or medical issues, including the date your symptoms first started. Be prepared to provide information related to any neurological disorders that other family members have experienced. Please also bring results of any EEG studies or imaging studies (CT, MRI) of the brain or spine, previous lab results and notes from your referring neurologist or other physician.

Preparing for your visit 

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