Dystonia is a hyperkinetic movement disorder defined by involuntary sustained muscle spasms and unusual postures. Etiologically, dystonic syndromes can be broadly divided into primary and secondary forms, dystonia-plus syndromes and heredodegenerative forms. In particular, diagnosis of secondary dystonic syndromes can be challenging in view of the variety of causes.
The purpose of this article is to highlight some clinical clues and syndromic associations as well as investigational findings which may be helpful in the approach to a patient with suspected secondary dystonia.
We outline characteristic clinical and neuroimaging findings which may be directive in the diagnostic process of dystonia patients and facilitate making the correct diagnosis, thus allowing initiating the best treatment.
Secondary causes of dystonia include, among others, strategic brain lesions of various origins, metabolic disease, neurodegenerative conditions, and previous exposure to drugs or toxins. Presence of clinical signs including prominent oromandibular involvement, eye movement disorders, retinitis pigmentosa, deafness, peripheral neuropathy, parkinsonism or progressive dementia should alert the clinician to consider a secondary cause. Strategic lesions within the basal ganglia, but also within the brainstem, cerebellum or cortical areas may underlie dystonia and should thus be excluded.