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What Is Opsoclonus-Myoclonus Syndrome?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

The rare neurological disorder called opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the brain, often after a viral infection. Also known as "dancing eyes/dancing feet" or Kinsbourne syndrome, this disorder can affect patients of any age, first manifesting itself in twitching eyes and muscles. Eventually, standing or walking becomes labored, as does speaking, eating or thinking clearly.

The opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome is marked by four separate conditions, which can appear almost instantaneously. Opsoclonus refers to uncontrollable twitches of the eyes, causing a dancing effect. Myoclonus pertains to muscular spasms that come and go, affecting the entire body. Also common for sufferers of this syndrome is ataxia, an overall lack of muscular coordination that hinders most common movements, from walking to eating. Finally, encephalopathy hinders the brain from thinking clearly. All combine to create a patient who cannot control movement, is lethargic, and often full of rage.

Opsoclonus-Myoclonus often attacks the brain after a viral infection.
Opsoclonus-Myoclonus often attacks the brain after a viral infection.

According to the National Pediatric Myoclonus Center, opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome often follows after the body has been fighting a tumorous growth or infected with various viral infections. Tumors are found in about half of patients suffering from it, and viral infections were recently treated in many of the rest. Though in 2011 the exact cause of this disorder is unknown, many researchers believe that antibodies produced by the body's immune system may inadvertently attack brain cells in an effort to rid the body of an invading tumor or virus.

Adrenocorticotrophic hormone shots, which may be administered to treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome, cause the body's adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
Adrenocorticotrophic hormone shots, which may be administered to treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome, cause the body's adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.

Doctors who treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome first attempt to determine if a tumor is present by ordering a series of radiological tests. If a tumor is found, they will attempt to remove it. This often eradicates the syndrome in childeren, since the body no longer senses an invading presence. For adults, however, the condition is more likely to continue even after a tumor is removed.

A person with opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome may not be able to think clearly.
A person with opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome may not be able to think clearly.

Regardless of whether a tumor is found, doctors regularly prescribe a regimen of adrenocorticotrophic hormone shots to treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome. In a series of injections over 20 days, this hormone causes the body's adrenal gland to produce more cortisol, which results in an 80 percent to 90 percent recovery rate for children, with less recovery percentage for adults.

Other drugs could be prescribed to push this syndrome into remission. Intravenous immunoglobulins are human antibodies that can boost the body's immune response. Chemotheraphy and steroid therapy also are commonly advised. Though most patients recover, many are susceptible to a recurrence when the body experiences a new illness.

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    • Opsoclonus-Myoclonus often attacks the brain after a viral infection.
      By: Tryfonov
      Opsoclonus-Myoclonus often attacks the brain after a viral infection.
    • Adrenocorticotrophic hormone shots, which may be administered to treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome, cause the body's adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
      By: stockshoppe
      Adrenocorticotrophic hormone shots, which may be administered to treat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome, cause the body's adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
    • A person with opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome may not be able to think clearly.
      By: Burlingham
      A person with opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome may not be able to think clearly.