Myoclonic disorders: a practical approach for diagnosis and treatment

Ther Adv Neurol Disord. 2011 Jan;4(1):47-62. doi: 10.1177/1756285610395653.


Myoclonus is a sudden, brief, involuntary muscle jerk. It is caused by abrupt muscle contraction, in the case of positive myoclonus, or by sudden cessation of ongoing muscular activity, in the case of negative myoclonus (NM). Myoclonus may be classified in a number of ways, although classification based on the underlying physiology is the most useful from the therapeutic viewpoint. Given the large number of possible causes of myoclonus, it is essential to take a good history, to clinically characterize myoclonus and to look for additional findings on examination in order to limit the list of possible investigations. With regards to the history, the age of onset, the character of myoclonus, precipitating or alleviating factors, family history and associated symptoms and signs are important. On examination, it is important to see whether the myoclonus appears at rest, on keeping posture or during action, to note the distribution of jerks and to look for the stimulus sensitivity. Electrophysiological tests are very helpful in determining whether myoclonus is cortical, subcortical or spinal. A single pharmacological agent rarely control myoclonus and therefore polytherapy with a combination of drugs, often in large dosages, is usually needed. Generally, antiepileptic drugs such as valproate, levetiracetam and piracetam are effective in cortical myoclonus, but less effective in other forms of myoclonus. Clonazepam may be helpful with all types of myoclonus. Focal and segmental myoclonus, irrespective of its origin, may be treated with botulinum toxin injections, with variable success.

Keywords: classification; clinical approach; myoclonus; treatment.