Involuntary muscle twitches are exceedingly common and yet not very well understood. "Nearly everyone experiences it," Dr. Daniel Drachman, professor of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, told me. "It occurs spontaneously in well over 90 percent of people at one time or another." Right now, as I write this sentence, it's happening to me. My left eyelid is twitching uncontrollably. It is very annoying.
The most common type of muscle twitches are "fasciculations." Fasciculations can occur in any muscle in the body, but, says Drachman, they tend to occur most noticeably in the limbs and the eyelids.
Why Is My Eyelid Twitching?
Fasciculations are the result of some kind of irritability of the nerve fibers. Because fasciculations are benign, they haven't been studied particularly deeply. (But, not all involuntary muscle twitches are fasciculations--more on that later.) So we don't really know even where in the nerve the irritation is picked up--it could be in the cell body, could be further out in the fibers, nobody really knows. It is also thought that the exact localization of the fasciculation is random, meaning that you will feel a twitch in your arm or leg or eyelid without having necessarily irritated a nerve anywhere near the place you experience the twitch.
Causes are also only loosely understood; there are certain behaviors that can trigger fasciculations, including too little sleep, too much exercise, a lack of magnesium, and the use of stimulants (especially caffeine), but no study has been able to concretely pin a cause on fasciculation. These presumed causes are correlations; adjusting your stress, magnesium, caffeine, sleep, and exercise level can help with fasciculations, but that's not evidence of causation.
Does This Mean Anything Sinister?
Well, probably not. A study from the Mayo Clinic found that over 90 percent of people will experience benign fasciculations during their lifetimes. Fasciculations are annoying but not harmful in themselves. They also probably do not indicate any kind of more dangerous underlying disease.
However, involuntary muscle twitches are not all fasciculations, and any non-fasciculation muscle twitch is almost certainly a bad sign. Fibrillation, for example, can be confused with fasciculation, but fibrillation indicates that the surrounding muscle fibers have completely lost their nerve supply. Fibrillations are very bad news, and indicate a serious nerve disorder, like Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Uhhh Okay I'm Scared. How Can I Tell What Kind Of Twitch I Have?
So, most twitches are benign. But there are some easy ways to tell if you're experiencing fasciculation or fibrillation. Fasciculation, for example, is visible. Take a look in the mirror at your twitching eyelid. Can you see it twitching? That's fasciculation. Or, you can do what Dr. Drachman recommends. "Take a bright light," he says, "and shine it so it's tangential over the surface of the affected body part so you can see a shadow [when it twitches]."
Fibrillation cannot be seen through the skin. To further test that out, you can take an electromyography (EMG) exam. EMGs measure the electrical activity of skeletal muscles. Fibrillation and fasciculation both show up on EMGs, but fibrillations show a very very tiny electrical impulse, whereas a fasciculation would show a very large impulse.
That's because fasciculations involve what's called a motor unit. Motor units consist of a motor neuron as well as the skeletal muscles that are controlled by that neuron--basically, fasciculations trigger entire (though often small) groups of muscle fibers to twitch. Fibrillation, on the other hand, affects just a single muscle fiber. So you'll feel it, and it'll feel pretty much like a small fasciculation, but you won't be able to see it, and an EMG will just barely pick it up.
I'm Pretty Sure It's Just Fasciculation. How Do I Get It To Stop?
Fasciculations may not be dangerous, but they are annoying, and can affect your ability to see or hear (depending on where they're located). If it happens very often, you may have benign fasciculation syndrome (BFS), which pretty much just means you have fasciculations a lot. There are not really any failsafe treatments; Dr. Drachman says "there are drugs we can use--really drugs used for seizures and epilepsy that may help reduce fasciculations." Those include gabapentin and tegretol.
If your fasciculations are caused by a magnesium deficiency, then, well, just take some magnesium supplements. That one's easy to solve! Of course, it's not that easy to tell if you have a magnesium deficiency; the effects are mostly vague, stuff like hyperexcitability, muscle weakness, and sleepiness, as well as, um, fasciculations. So make sure to eat high-magnesium foods like leafy greens, nuts, and wheat bran.
Interestingly, cannabis has been suggested as a possible means to alleviate fasciculations. There have been essentially no reputable studies, but anecdotal evidence from users suggests cannabis can lower the frequency and severity of fasciculations.
I had fasciculation twitches, I used to smoke so much weed, I didn't even notice until I had quit. I've been on magnesium supplements for approx 2 weeks, they have almost gone. Now, where did I put those brownies...Thanks for the reassurance ;)
This article is a stupid pot promotion and not even supported by science.
One thing is clear. It explains why the quality of PoPSCi articles are going down hill...... sheesh.
Hey, a high sugar, carbohydrate American diet and yes alcohol causes diabetes and excessive parasite and yeast infections. The current medical profession ignores parasite and yeast infections. Seem the side effects of parasites and yeast infections are numerous and profitable for the medical community.
One side effect of a parasite, yeast infection is twitching, among a great many other problems. The parasite and yeast infection causes malnutrition, which includes magnesium deficiency.
However, eating sugar, carbohydrates and drink alcohol and when you feel bad, just smoke some pot. Now worries man, you going to die and feel no pain in the process. Be happy.
Of course, you could eat a mostly vegetarian diet, no sugars, no drinking, and no pot, include coconut oil in your diet too for health, exercise, be healthy, happy, and live a long life.
@ Robot - is there something intrinsically wrong with marijuana? Besides this article only briefly mentions it at the end. That is not a promotion... more of an addendum really.
How again can a promotion be "stupid"? Use of the correct words will ensure your point isn't misrepresented or taken down arbitrarily.
I agree that PopSci articles need to be returned to the lengthy and in-depth articles they used to be. I don't feel this is all together PopSci's fault. They are at the end of the day a business that caters to consumers. If those consumers require quick and neat bite-sized chucks of article fluff...then that's what you do. You don't forsake your livelihood on a small portions notion of "right". You look at your numbers and trends and go from there.
However, your angst against marijuana is misplaced. You are stigmatizing a drug so completely on the opposition of harm as to be laughable as to why it is still illegal (which by endeavor makes it harmful).
For now you might consign it to homeopathy or alternative medicine...however, this too would be in error as marijuana's key components have already been refined and patented as medicine.
Will I eat willow bark instead of an aspirin? Not likely, but I know if I'm lost in the woods with a headache that I have options.
Yes this is a subtle promotional article for the use of pot via an opinion, not science.
And for those in life that have a real medical need for the use of pot and get it from a doctor and follow the prescription, I am fine with this.
Follow your doctor’s prescription and live a healthy life style. Take care. ;)
Ahhh I see your issue now:
"However, eating sugar, carbohydrates and drink alcohol and when you feel bad, just smoke some pot. Now worries man, you going to die and feel no pain in the process. Be happy." - Robot
You need sugar and carbohydrates to maintain homeostasis. *Over* consumption of these items is bad for your health...not the consumption of these items in moderation.
Alcohol, well that is its own argument. Alcoholism and trends decline in countries with legal marijuana laws. Post game rioting is eliminated when marijuana is allowed to be smoked during sporting events (surprisingly a very common and normal occurrence in Europe...that is the rioting and now the allowing marijuana smoking or non-enforcment of marijuana laws during sporting events)
Drunken driving, though not an issue once automated cars arrive on the scene, still provide a massive amount of casualties each year. Those numbers drop significantly when marijuana is legalized. (though I will always be against driving while under the influence of ANYTHING)
As a recreational alternative marijuana is one of the best answers to the ails that alcohol and alcoholism provide on a daily basis. Now, I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses and thinking these stats will drop to zero, but isn't any significant change worth the lives saved?
As a medicine it has its merits as well. Those two facets though need to be weighed independent of each other. It is the difference between gun control background checks and which weapons we should equip our police force with. Similar but with vastly differing points.
"Follow your doctor’s prescription and live a healthy life style. " - Robot
I assert you can live an increasingly healthy lifestyle while recreationally using marijuana, in moderation. In fact it is magnitudes better for you to opt for a joint than a beer...better yet a bag of vapor.
Plus, blindly following one doctor's advice has been beginning of many woes for many people. How about we assert that doctors by-and-large have the knowledge to lead us in the right direction but they can be woefully wrong or down-right harmfully biased on their own opinions of what is "right" for a patient. Hell, we'd have no reason for peer review and medical hearing boards otherwise.
However, eating sugar, carbohydrates and drink alcohol and when you feel bad, just smoke some pot. Now worries man, you going to die and feel no pain in the process. Be happy
FYI... I was being sarcastic here. Ooops, I end with the word, sarcasm.
I am primarily a vegetarian\10percentage meat or so, exercise a lot and do not do drugs or alcohol, just to clarify.
I understand that people do have medical problems, which necessitates the dispensing of medicine by a doctor. I am ok with this and yes follow the prescription.
"Do not do drugs otherwise"!
Everything in moderation. Moderation is key, the problem is people lack self control. Many people cannot just have a taste, they need to have more, and more.
Exercise, one of the greatest misrepresented ways of getting your daily fix.
I always laugh at the proponents of exercise, don't get me wrong, I run 5 miles a day as well as a vigorous exercise routine. I also smoke pot.
From a scientific point of view, cannabis could not affect the human nervous system if not for EndoCannabiniod receptors, they are what trigger the "high" feeling when you smoke pot. They are also the active receptors that give you the medicinal benefits. They have the same mechanism as your Dopamine receptors.
Ask anyone who exercises why they do it. I do it because it makes me feel good, and lifts me up with a happy high energy feeling. It is also good for my health.
Ask anyone who smokes pot why they do it. I do it because it makes me feel good, and lifts me up with a happy "high" energy feeling. It is also good for my health.
By the way, that "high" feeling your dopamine and endocann receptors give you, are also triggered by not only exercise, but intense feelings, sights, sounds, tastes and smells... a lover's kiss... chocolate moose... your favourite song on the radio...
So basically, get down of your high horse and stop being such a hypocrite.
A great many of Dan's article include beer and pot. This shows up in his writing style and I am confident his hobby in his off hours.
Time will tell the effect of prolong use of these two things. Eventually we will see Dan disapeer over the years from PoP... or maybe will quit his drug habit, which I doubt.
I've been an annual subscriber to popular science for going on three decades now. I recently started viewing the online content. I must say, whoever is posing as "robot" never even graduated second grade. If you cannot spell correctly or use proper English grammar why are you pretending to be so involved in the scientific community? Unless you are a nuclear physicist for Iran or north Korea please learn to spell correctly. You are a disgrace to every learned English speaking human.
I adore robots icon. I might adopt is my own. He is one very cool robot!
SpencerAG = whinny child as#.
ok so weres the part that i die cuzz my heart twitches insead of beating?
Thank you PopSci for writing this article. I have Benign Fasciculations Syndrome, and have had it continuously for 3+ years (it sucks).
I have muscle twitches all over my body, all the time, I do find that magnesium, calcium and vitamin D help to control them. I have anxiety, but I think I'm kind of caught in a vicious circle here, where the main stress in my life is this BFS, what it is, why I have it, and how to make it go away, and while I'm worry about it, it's getting worse.
I also have weird nerve sensations mostly in my right leg (kind of like a tingling or a buzz) when it's more intense it kind of feels like when your foot falls asleep. I was tested for ALS back in April, and I don't have it. I'm only writing this in case anyone else reads this article, and has BFS, or thinks they do.
I've had what is described here as fasciculations for a week now, above the right elbow. Oddly enough, a couple of week ago I decided to smoke some marijuana for the first time in years (I smoked heavily as a teenager, quitting after I developed severe anxiety and panic attacks). I smoked a small amount and the next day experienced panic attacks throughout the day, and latent nervousness ever since (it seems to stay in your system and continue to render effects for weeks). I then began experiencing the fasciculations. Contrary to this article, my own anecdotal evidence suggests marijuana may cause fasciculations.
And as goes scientific data, for those interested, there is an excellent summary of the wealth of scientific research conducted on marijuana in this recent book published by Cambridge: Marijuana and Madness, by David Castle, Robin M. Murray and Deepak Cyril D'Souza (Dec 30, 2011). It is an overview with a focus on the positive correlations found with marijuana use and schizophrenia. This is a medical text, but a light read for a science text.