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 side a laptop is turned off, going from a coloured screen to a black one. The moment the colour changes, my head will make a twitch as if I’m smacked 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. Sudden noise and movement have the same effect, so in case you think I’m performing a tango with an invisible partner, I’m not (I wished I was though!)
Other sudden events will set off the same kind of twitching, or spasm, but without going into the details of the different kinds of myoclonus – there are many, with as many causes and even more effects. Or like it’s so nicely put in Wikipedia: “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.”
Suffice to say that the type that I have, is stimulus-sensitive and 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.
Now, now, now, don’t be jealous, you can have your piece of the pie also! 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 myoclonus because of the many different causes and effects it can present. I’ll leave the browsing the internet to your fine self so, as the old eyes are starting to give me grief again.
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 (Yes, you can see me raise both eyebrows now, as giving barbiturates to someone already having problems staying awake after awake 3 hours… No siree!)
I could hurl terms like neurotransmitters, receptors, genetic alterations, 5-HPT, tensor veli palatini and other fantastic sounding words at you, but a) it’s past my turn-of-the-laptop-time, and b) I bet you’d rather hear technical terms from your neurologist instead of me.
On that note so, good night, I hope you get enough rest, and don’t forget to whack any tiny mosquitoes before they become a big problem that keeps you awake at night.
For more on myoclonus, please visit these webpages:
© 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.