Do you ever have a muscle in your eyelid, leg, or another area of your body that seems to have a mind of its own, creating an uncontrollable twitch or spasm? If that’s the case, you’re not alone.
These uncontrollable movements, known as fasciculations, can affect up to 70% of the population at any given time. Twitches can be caused by a variety of factors, including too much caffeine, not drinking enough fluids, getting too little sleep, or even lifting heavyweights.
Muscle twitches aren’t always a cause for alarm, according to Ryan Jacobson, MD, a neuromuscular specialist at Rush University Medical Center. Seeing a doctor, however, may be a good idea because fasciculations can be an indication of more serious problems.
The majority of twitches aren’t serious.
Although muscular twitches are widespread, fasciculations can become very persistent and painful for a small fraction of people, often without a clear trigger. The condition known as benign fasciculation syndrome may be detected in these people.
Large muscles in the calves may twitch in people with this disease. Twitches in smaller muscles, such as those in their eyelids or other regions of the face, may also occur. However, twitches can occur in any portion of the body.
“People frequently seek medical help because they observe twitches in unexpected places of the body, such as the chest wall or abdomen, which can be alarming,” Jacobson explains.
Even while they can be bothersome, these fasciculations aren’t the reason for concern, as the name “benign” implies. “There is no muscle and nerve damage beneath the surface, and the symptoms, while annoying, is neither alarming nor progressing,” he says.
Twitches and cramping are very common.
Muscle cramping is another common symptom in patients with benign fasciculation syndrome. “Cramping can range from little aches and pains to severe charley horses,” Jacobson explains.
Crampings, like muscle twitches, can affect just one portion of the body or multiple. Along with the twitches and cramps, people may experience tingling.
According to Jacobson, doctors believe that inflamed nerves, not muscles, are to blame for the recurrent symptoms. A recent infection, hormone changes, vitamin deficits, or electrolyte imbalances are all potential reasons, according to Jacobson. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are sometimes to blame.
Having a twitch examined
So, how can you know if your twitches and cramps are, as most people believe, nothing to be concerned about? Jacobson recommends seeing your primary care physician or a neurologist. Seeing a doctor is especially vital if you have considerable muscle weakness and twitches, as these symptoms can indicate something more serious.
“Many patients with fasciculations who come to the clinic are concerned about neurological disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s illness,” Jacobson explains.
“In most circumstances, a good neurological exam and a history of presenting symptoms can determine if the symptoms are benign or if there is an underlying, worrying condition.”
In fact, a simple neurological exam and bloodwork may be all that’s required to rule out ALS or another degenerative disease.
Electromyography (EMG), an electrical test for the nerves and muscles, is sometimes recommended by a doctor. EMG testing is frequently normal in persons with benign fasciculation syndrome, according to Jacobson.
Treatment for twitching
Jacobson often works with patients to improve their behaviors, such as obtaining more sleep and drinking more fluids, in order to alleviate benign fasciculations (but not caffeine).
If the sensations are really unpleasant, he may suggest that the patient take gabapentin, a prescription medication that can lessen nerve irritation. Some people may benefit from taking an over-the-counter magnesium supplement.
Muscle twitches and cramps may eventually go away on their own with time. “These neuromuscular symptoms seem to wax and go in many patients,” Jacobson explains. “And the prognosis is generally excellent in terms of the symptoms becoming less noticeable and unpleasant with time.”