Hemifacial spasm is an involuntary contraction of one half of the face. In most cases the cause of the spasms are not harmful but they can be cosmetically undesirable or embarrassing. As with many brain conditions, pinpointing the exact cause is not always straightforward. Several tests are available to help determine the cause of the spasms. Here are some examples of tests.
- MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging (to see the big picture and rule out tumors and aneurysms)
- EMG – Electromyogram (to measure the electrical activity of the muscles)
- EEG – Electroencephalogram (to measure the electrical activity of the brain)
Doctors use these tests to evaluate the affected nerves and muscles. In most cases hemifacial spasm is caused by a blood vessel compressing the facial nerve. This compression can then result in either irritation of the facial nerve or loss of the protective covering of the facial nerve resulting in a “short circuit” which ultimately causes the spasm.
Eye twitch or hemifacial spasm?
Twitches are involuntary actions of nerves and muscles. They can be caused by changes in brain chemistry such as overproduction of epinephrine when stressed, or caffeine intake which causes excess firing of neurons. Twitches have also been linked to lack of sleep especially drastic changes in sleep patterns.
Almost everyone has experienced eye twitches at some point. Occasional eye twitches are normal and should not be cause for alarm. If you have had large changes in caffeine use, sleep or stressors try changing these to see if the twitches go away.
Patients who do not notice a change in the twitch after making adjustments to regulate their sleep patterns and caffeine intake should consult a doctor. If your eye twitch starts affecting other areas of your face it could be a sign of a hemifacial spasm.
Hemifacial Spasm Signs
Patients who are concerned about a facial tic or eye twitch can use these signs as an indicator of when a twitch might be a sign of a more serious condition. Hemifacial spasms are characterized by:
- Frequent involuntary twitches
- Spasms affecting muscles on one half of the face
- Twitches that start affecting more muscles than in the past
- Loss of control of the muscles of one half of the face
It does not affect everyone equally. Women are more prone to them than men. Additionally, caffeine, sleep and stress are all factors that can influence facial spasm.
When To See a Doctor
It is a good idea to see a physician if your twitch starts to “move” and affect other muscles in your face. These could be indicators of a more serious condition. Patients who lose control of their facial muscles should consult a doctor immediately. If are concerned with a facial twitch ask a doctor about it. Call and set up your appointment today with Dr. Chang!