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Causes of dystonia

Dystonia with no obvious cause, or caused by a genetic mutation, is known as primary dystonia. If dystonia is a symptom of another condition, it's known as secondary dystonia.

Primary dystonia

Most people with primary dystonia don't have an identified cause. A minority of cases are associated with genetic mutations, which usually begin in childhood.

There are currently over 12 types (or sub-types) of dystonia linked to genetic mutations, including generalised dystonia, dopa-responsive dystonia and paroxysmal dystonia.

Read more about the different types of dystonia.

The genes responsible for these types of dystonia are passed down through families in a pattern that's known as autosomal dominant. This means if you have one of these abnormal genes, there's a one in two chance your children will inherit that gene and develop dystonia.

Secondary dystonia

Secondary dystonia, also known as acquired dystonia, can have a wide range of causes, including:

  • Parkinson’s disease  a neurological condition caused by the lack of a neurotransmitter called dopamine
  • Huntington’s disease  a genetic condition that can lead to psychiatric problems and difficulties with behaviour, feeding, communication and abnormal movements
  • Wilson’s disease  a genetic condition that leads to a build-up of copper in the body’s tissues
  • multiple sclerosis  a condition caused by damage to the nervous system
  • cerebral palsy  a condition caused by brain damage that occurs before or soon after birth
  • certain medications  such as antipsychotics (used to treat certain mental health conditions) or anticonvulsants (used to treat epilepsy) which can cause dystonia in a small number of people
  • infections  such as HIV or encephalitis 
  • injury  to the skull or spine
  • brain tumours
  • stroke  a serious medical condition, where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off
  • poisoning  such as carbon monoxide poisoning