Facial Spasms

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What are facial spasms?

Facial spasms are abnormal muscle contractions in the face. Repeated facial spasms, also called tics, are often seen in children, particularly boys. In many cases, the cause of facial spasms is not known. In other cases, facial spasms may be related to seizures, medication side effects, chronic motor disorders, or Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary movements and vocalizations.

Common types of facial spasms include rapid, repetitive squinting or blinking, grimacing, mouth twitching, and nose twitching. Often, facial spasms will go away with time. They generally do not lead to complications or require treatment. Facial spasms may be related to stress, so eliminating stress or undertaking a stress management program may improve facial spasms. In some cases, medical intervention may be beneficial.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if facial spasms occur in combination with a seizure, loss of consciousness, paralysis or inability to move a body part, or difficulty breathing.

If your facial spasms are persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with facial spasms?

Facial spasms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Neurological symptoms that may occur along with facial spasms

Facial spasms may accompany other symptoms affecting the nervous system including:

  • Abnormal blinking

  • Muscle twitching, spasms or seizures

  • Repeated clearing of the throat

  • Repeated grunting

  • Repetitive motion

  • Short attention span

  • Sudden, involuntary urges

  • Uncontrollable vocal outbursts

Symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, facial spasms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition, such as epilepsy, that can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have facial spasms along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Abnormal pupil size (too big or too small) or abnormal reactivity to light

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Multiple seizures in a row without recovery between episodes

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking

What causes facial spasms?

Often, the cause of facial spasms is not known. They may be the symptom of a transient tic disorder, chronic motor tic disorder, or Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary movements and vocalizations. In serious cases, facial spasms may be related to seizures or epilepsy.

Neurological causes of facial spasms

Facial spasms may be caused by disorders of the nervous system including:

  • Chronic motor tic disorder
  • Seizures
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Transient tic disorder (short duration tics)

Other causes of facial spasms

Facial spasms can also be caused by medication side effects.

Serious or life-threatening causes of facial spasms

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

  • Brain damage
  • Epilepsy (neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of facial spasms

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

  • How long have you experienced facial spasms?
  • Do you experience any vocal outbursts?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have tics elsewhere besides your face?
  • What parts of your face experience spasms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of facial spasms?

Generally, facial spasms do not lead to any complications and may spontaneously resolve. If your facial spasms are related to seizures, prompt medical evaluation is essential. Because facial spasms 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:

  • Absenteeism from work or school
  • Embarrassment
  • Permanent neurological damage
  • Seizures and tremors
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Seizures. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seizures.html
  2. Facial tics. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002383/