That twitching feeling



No, it’s not fancy, French food, but one of my never-talked about MS symptoms. It just doesn’t happen enough to remember it’s there until it happens again, and when it does, it just isn’t bad enough to qualify it as horrendous or painful. What it does do, however, is making me wonder about the human brain, and its power to overtake me with surprise.

Let’s say I’m talking to a friend, and to my right hand side a laptop is turned off, going from a coloured screen to a black one. The moment the colour changes, my head will twitch as if I’m hit in my face by that very laptop. Even when that laptop is in front of me, it’s quite possible it’ll make me visibly twitch. Funny enough, abrupt noise and movement have the same effect.

Without going into the details of the different kinds of myoclonus – there are many, with as many causes and even more effects. The most common types of myoclonus include action, cortical reflex, essential, palatal, those seen in the progressive myoclonus epilepsies, reticular reflex, sleep, and stimulus-sensitive.

Stimulus-sensitive myoclonus is triggered by a variety of external events, including sound, touch, movement, and light. Surprise may increase the sensitivity of the patient. Just like MS’s unpredictability in general, myoclonus can vary in intensity as well as in frequency, and it cannot be controlled by the one experiencing it.

In short, myoclonus can feel like short, sudden, shock-like and involuntary jerks, shakes or spasms. In some people, myoclonus can be severe enough to interfere with walking, speaking or eating. In my case, thankfully, it only happens like mentioned earlier on.

Healthy people know this kind of feeling also in the form of hiccups, twitching muscles from feeling anxiety or in “sleep starts” jerking of the body when falling asleep. These cause no difficulties for the person feeling it. When those jerks or spasms become more frequent and when their intensity rises, you should see someone as contractions in a group of muscles can indicate an underlying illness such as MS.

Depending on which medical book or website you’re reading, you will find a variety of types and definitions of clonic spasms because of the many different causes and effects it can present.

Most myoclonus is caused by a disturbance of the central nervous system. Studies suggest that several locations in the brain are involved in myoclonus. One such location, for example, is in the brain stem close to structures that are responsible for the startle response, an automatic reaction to an unexpected stimulus involving rapid muscle contraction.

The complexity of myoclonus means it’s hard to pinpoint why this happens. Scientists believe that some types of stimulus-sensitive myoclonus may involve over-excitability of the parts of the brain that control movement.

I’ve never required treatment as myoclonus never interferes with my daily tasks. If I would need treatment though, I would have to think very hard about adding more medication to my daily 30-something pill diet. Since there is not targeted medication for myoclonus, medical staff often prescribe barbiturates to reduce spasms.

For more on myoclonus, please visit these web pages:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

US National Library of Medicine

The Mayo Clinic

The Epilepsy Foundation 

© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 thoughts on “That twitching feeling

  1. This is a great, informative blog post. One of my worst symptoms is myoclonus. I was clinically diagnosed with MS but later told it was a misdiagnosis when my MRI was clear. Myoclonus affects my life in a big way somedays, and I also experience it the way you do. When I’m at a movie and lights start flashing I get the twitch too. I’m glad yours isn’t too bad and I really hope it stays that way!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear yours is affecting you so much. It’s one of those weird symptoms that really makes you wonder how else your brain can trick you. Every time it happens to me, I do wonder about it. Hopefully you get some relief from it somehow. Are you on any medication for it?

      1. Ive been on and off baclofen for it but Im really not a fan of muscle relaxers because they make me so tired. I have a friend who is a massage therapist and she taught me and my boyfriend a few things we can do to relieve the tension that help a lot :)

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