Twitches

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Introduction

What are twitches?

Twitches are minor, uncontrolled, repetitive motions of a muscle. These motions are due to small contractions of the affected muscle. Twitches may occur in any muscle in the body, such as those in the thumb or calf.

Facial tics are a type of twitch occurring in the facial muscles. Facial tics commonly affect the muscles of the eyes or mouth. Facial tics include repetitive mouth spasms, wrinkling of the nose, grimacing, clearing of the throat, blinking, and squinting of the eyes. Facial tics are common during childhood.

Twitches may be short-lived or permanent. There are many causes of twitches, which vary substantially in severity. Minor twitches may be the result of exercise or caffeine consumption. Some twitches may be the result of a neurological condition or traumatic brain injury. In some cases, the cause of twitches is not known.

Twitches may be a symptom of serious or life-threatening condition, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have serious symptoms, such as numbness or weakness on one side of your body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of stroke.

Seek prompt medical care if your twitches are persistent or cause you concern.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with twitches?

Twitches may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently cause twitches may also involve other body systems.

Symptoms that may occur along with twitches

Twitches may accompany many other symptoms including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Although twitches themselves are not serious, in some cases they may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition, such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury, which should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Absent or diminished pulses
  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part
  • Seizures
  • Severe headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden change in vision, loss of vision, or eye pain
  • Vomiting
Causes

What causes twitches?

There are many causes of twitches, which vary greatly in severity. The location and duration of the twitch depends on the underlying cause.

Minor and short-lived twitches may be the result of exercise or caffeine consumption. Long-term twitches may be the result of a neurological condition, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; a severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability), or Parkinson’s disease (brain disorder that impairs movement and coordination). In some cases, twitches may be the result of a serious condition, such as a traumatic brain injury or brain tumor.

Neurological causes of twitches

Twitches may be caused by conditions affecting the nervous system including:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

  • Brachial plexus injury (injury to the bundle of nerves that transmit signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

  • Muscular dystrophy (inherited disorder that causes a progressive loss of muscle tissue and muscle weakness)

  • Myasthenia gravis (autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness)

  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as of the ulnar nerve in the arm

  • Parkinson’s disease

  • Tourette’s syndrome (neurological disorder characterized by tics and vocal outbursts)

Other causes of twitches

Twitches may also be caused by:

  • Anxiety

  • Consumption of products with caffeine or other drugs

  • Dietary deficiencies

  • Exercise

  • Kidney disease (includes any type of kidney problem, such as kidney stones, kidney failure and kidney anomalies)

  • Medication side effects

  • Stress

  • Transient tic disorder

Serious or life-threatening causes of twitches

In some cases, twitches may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Brain tumor

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (autoimmune-induced nerve disease)

  • Stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

  • Trauma to the face, head or neck

  • Traumatic brain injury

Questions for diagnosing the cause of twitches

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your twitches including:

  • Are you receiving hemodialysis?

  • How long have you experienced twitches?

  • How severe are the twitches?

  • What part of your body is affected by the twitches?

  • Are the twitches recurrent?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of twitches?

Because twitches can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage

  • Disability

  • Impaired balance and coordination

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Neurological problems, such as memory loss, confusion, and encephalitis

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Unconsciousness and coma

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 21
  1. Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003296.htm
  2. Facial tics. PubMed Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001410.htm
  3. Ferri FF. Ferri’s Differential Diagnosis, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2011.
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