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:

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
  • 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:

  • 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

References:

Muscle twitching. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003296.htm. Accessed May 3, 2011.

Facial tics. PubMed Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001410.htm. Accessed May 3, 2011.

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.... Read more about twitchesintroduction

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.... Read more about twitchessymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles


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