A face spasm, or hemifacial spasm, is a neuromuscular disorder that causes involuntary twitches, or spasms, to either side of the face. Face spasms are abnormal muscle contractions, which when repeated are also known as tics. Other common types of facial spasms can include: repetitive squinting, blinking, grimacing, or mouth or nose twitching. Most often, facial spasms diminish with time and do not lead to further complications or treatment. Usually caused by stress, face spasms disappear as stress is eliminated or reduced and undertaking a stressful situation may cause these spasms to appear.
A more severe case of face spasms is called hemifacial spasms, which start from intermittent tics or spasms of the eye muscles. These spasms, although rare, can spread to muscles in the lower face and eventually spread to all muscles on one side of the face and neck. Hemifacial spasms are usually caused by a damaged facial nerve, a tumor or blood vessel compressing the nerve or Bell’s palsy.
In a majority of cases, spasms start near the eye and progress down the face over time. Although it has been seen that spasms start near the chin and move upward, this is not very common. In terms of a diagnosis, an MRI scan may be given to ensure other conditions such as a brain tumor or aneurysm, are not the cause. Next, an electromyogram (EMG) study of the face may be given to measure muscle and nerve electrical activity.
There are several treatments that may be available. These can include: prescribed anti-convulsion medication from your doctor, a Botulinum toxin (Botox) injection that cause muscle paralysis by blocking electrical messages that tell the muscle to move, or surgery when medications and injections fail to control spasms or cause side effects. For surgery, a procedure called microvascular decompression can relieve the nerve compression. Each is a different form of treatment, which is given based on comfort level, and can depend on the severity of the face spasm.
Although the cause of facial spasms is not exactly known, they may be related to seizures, medication side effects, chronic motor disorders, or Tourette’s syndrome. Despite the fact that these facial spasms eventually reside, precaution should be taken to reduce the chance of a more serious condition. If common face spasms were to become hemifacial spasms more severe treatments may be needed in order to correct them.