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What are Facial Spasms?

By Matt Brady
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Facial spasms, also known as fasciculations, are involuntary muscle contractions in the face that cause tics and twitching. Spasms can occur anywhere in the face, and are caused by a wide range of factors, from everyday stress to more serious ailments such as Tourette's Syndrome. Muscle contractions aren't generally painful, but if the condition is chronic, it can be quite irritating and even debilitating. The causes of most facial spasms aren't well understood, although it's known they're a result of interactions between muscles and nerves. Experts speculate that stress, overstimulation and heredity may be underlying causes.

Facial spasms are actually quite common. Most people at least experience eyelid twitches at some point in their lives. Often, these don't have any serious or identifiable causes, and may simply be related to over-excitement or stress. Benign spasms may flare up for a period of time, even up to a day or longer, but then subsist. More serious facial spasms that result from a disease or disorder are often more chronic and exaggerated, and may be associated with other symptoms.

Many people experience myoclonus facial spasms, which are simply involuntary muscle contractions. It's not uncommon for people to experience myoclonus twitches while falling asleep, although they can occur anytime and for no particular reason. In certain cases, myoclonus does resemble a spasm disorder, with chronic twitches and jerks that affect a person's ability to live normally.

Facial spasms caused by dystonia can be more severe, and may need treatment. Dystonia is classified as a serious neurological disorder; twitches can be so severe that a person's face or other affected region of the body may be forced into abnormal expressions and poses. For some, dystonia occurs temporarily as a reaction to medication, but for others it can be more chronic. Dystonia isn’t always severe, however, and can present itself in mild twitches.

In some middle-aged people, what may seem like a routine eye spasm turns into something more serious. Not only does the twitch continue, but it begins to spread, affecting the lower regions of the face and even beginning to distort the mouth. This occurs with Hemifacial Spasms (HFS), a disorder without known cause. It's thought that blood vessels coming into contact with facial nerves may trigger these spasms. Bright lights, stress and strained eyes have been known to worsen the effects of HFS as well. Fortunately, these spasms aren't typically associated with serious pain, and can be treated with a high success rate.

Blepharospasm is a disorder characterized by chronic eyelid twitches that resemble winking. In some cases, the spasms are so severe that they're capable of impairing vision and eye function. Blepharospasm can grow progressively worse, even spreading spasms beyond the eyes and into the face. There is no known cure, although there are ways to reduce symptoms, such as injection therapies, oral medications and surgery.

Facial spasms are also a routine symptom of Tourette's Syndrome. Tourette's is characterized by twitches and tics of all sorts, including verbal tics. In milder cases of Tourette's, a person may only exhibit facial spasms; in more severe cases, facial tics may be accompanied verbal tics and spasms throughout other parts of the body.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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