A spasm is a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle,[1] a group of muscles, or a hollow organ such as the heart.

A spasmodic muscle contraction may be caused by many medical conditions, including dystonia. Most commonly, it is a muscle cramp which is accompanied by a sudden burst of pain. A muscle cramp is usually harmless and ceases after a few minutes. It is typically caused by ion imbalance or muscle overload.

There are other causes of involuntary muscle contractions, and some of these may cause a health problem.

Muscle spasm

Description and causes

Various kinds of involuntary muscle activity may be referred to as a "spasm".

A spasm may be a muscle contraction caused by abnormal nerve stimulation or by abnormal activity of the muscle itself.

A series of spasms, or permanent spasms, is called a "spasmism".

A spasm may lead to muscle strains or tears in tendons and ligaments if the force of the spasm exceeds the tensile strength of the underlying connective tissue. This can occur with a particularly strong spasm or with weakened connective tissue.

A hypertonic muscle spasm is a condition of chronic, excessive muscle tone (i.e., tension in a resting muscle). This is the amount of contraction that remains when a muscle is not working. A true hypertonic spasm is caused by malfunctioning feedback nerves. This is much more serious and is permanent unless treated. In this case, the hypertonic muscle tone is excessive, and the muscles are unable to relax.

A subtype of spasm is colic. This is an episodic pain caused by spasm of smooth muscle in a particular organ (e.g., the bile duct). A characteristic of colic is the sensation of having to move about, and the pain may induce nausea or vomiting.

See also


  1. ^ Dorland's Medical Dictionary.

External links


Angina, also known as angina pectoris, is chest pain or pressure, usually due to not enough blood flow to the heart muscle.

Angina is usually due to obstruction or spasm of the coronary arteries. Other causes include anemia, abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure. The main mechanism of coronary artery obstruction is an atherosclerosis as part of coronary artery disease. The term derives from the Latin angere ("to strangle") and pectus ("chest"), and can therefore be translated as "a strangling feeling in the chest".

There is a weak relationship between severity of pain and degree of oxygen deprivation in the heart muscle (i.e., there can be severe pain with little or no risk of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) and a heart attack can occur without pain). In some cases, angina can be quite severe, and in the early 20th century this was a known sign of impending death. However, given current medical therapies, the outlook has improved substantially. People with an average age of 62 years, who have moderate to severe degrees of angina (grading by classes II, III, and IV) have a 5-year survival rate of approximately 92%.Worsening angina attacks, sudden-onset angina at rest, and angina lasting more than 15 minutes are symptoms of unstable angina (usually grouped with similar conditions as the acute coronary syndrome). As these may precede a heart attack, they require urgent medical attention and are, in general, treated in similar fashion to myocardial infarction.


An antispasmodic (synonym: spasmolytic) is a pharmaceutical drug or other agent that suppresses muscle spasms.


Bronchospasm or a bronchial spasm is a sudden constriction of the muscles in the walls of the bronchioles. It is caused by the release (degranulation) of substances from mast cells or basophils under the influence of anaphylatoxins. It causes difficulty in breathing which can be very mild to severe.

Bronchospasms appear as the feature of asthma, chronic bronchitis and anaphylaxis. Bronchospasms are a possible side effect of some drugs: pilocarpine (which is used to treat illness resulting from the ingestion of deadly nightshade, as well as other things), beta blockers (used to treat hypertension), a paradoxical result of using LABA drugs (to treat COPD) and other drugs. Bronchospasms can present as a sign of giardiasis.

Bronchospasms are one of several conditions associated with cold housing.Some of the things that can cause bronchospasms are: consuming foods, taking medicines, allergic responses to insects, and fluctuating hormone levels, particularly in women.A few of the more common allergens are foods such as eggs, milk, peanuts, walnuts, tree and other nuts, fish, especially shellfish, soy and wheat; insect bites and stings, especially bee stings; and other medicines, especially penicillin and its derivatives.

The overactivity of the bronchioles' muscle is a result of exposure to a stimulus which under normal circumstances would cause little or no response. The resulting constriction and inflammation causes a narrowing of the airways and an increase in mucus production; this reduces the amount of oxygen that is available to the individual causing breathlessness, coughing and hypoxia.

Bronchospasms are a serious potential complication of placing a breathing tube during general anesthesia. When the airways spasm or constrict in response to the irritating stimulus of the breathing tube, it is difficult to maintain the airway and the patient can become apneic. During general anesthesia, signs of bronchospasm include wheezing, high peak inspiratory pressures, increased intrinsic PEEP, decreased expiratory tidal volumes, and an upsloping capnograph (obstructive pattern). In severe cases, there may be complete inability to ventilate and loss of ETCO2 as well as hypoxia and desaturation.

Cadaveric spasm

Cadaveric spasm, also known as postmortem spasm, instantaneous rigor, cataleptic rigidity, or instantaneous rigidity, is a rare form of muscular stiffening that occurs at the moment of death and persists into the period of rigor mortis. Cadaveric spasm can be distinguished from rigor mortis as the former is a stronger stiffening of the muscles that cannot be easily undone, as rigor mortis can.The cause is unknown but is usually associated with violent deaths under extremely physical circumstances with intense emotion.

Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, Jerusalem

The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows (Hebrew: כנסיית גבירתנו הדואבת‎), or the Church of Sorrows of Mary also called the Armenian Chapel of Our Lady of the Spasm, is an Armenian Catholic church building in the Old City of Jerusalem erected in 1881.Located at the fourth station on the Via Dolorosa, under the Arc Ecce Homo, not far from the Austrian Hospice in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, it commemorates Jesus' encounter on the way to his crucifixion with his mother. The building includes a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and is thus named in dedicated to her under the title Our Lady of Sorrows.

As the seat of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Amman of the Armenian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic particular church sui iuris in full communion with the Pope in Rome, and the Catholic Church, the church building holds the status of cathedral. The facility is also the Armenian hospice in Jerusalem.

It is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO since 1981.


Clonus is a series of involuntary, rhythmic, muscular contractions and relaxations. Clonus is a sign of certain neurological conditions, particularly associated with upper motor neuron lesions involving descending motor pathways, and in many cases is, accompanied by spasticity (another form of hyperexcitability). Unlike small, spontaneous twitches known as fasciculations (usually caused by lower motor neuron pathology), clonus causes large motions that are usually initiated by a reflex. Studies have shown clonus beat frequency to range from three to eight Hz on average, and may last a few seconds to several minutes depending on the patient’s condition. The term is from the Greek for "violent, confused motion".

Coronary reflex

Coronary reflex is the change of coronary diameter in response to chemical, neurological or mechanical stimulation of the coronary arteries.

The coronary reflexes are stimulated differently from the rest of the vascular system.

Coronary vasospasm

Coronary vasospasm is a sudden, intense vasoconstriction of an epicardial coronary artery that causes occlusion (stoppage) or near-occlusion of the vessel.

It can cause Prinzmetal's angina.

It can occur in multiple vessels.Atropine has been used to treat the condition.

Cú Chulainn

Cú Chulainn, also spelled Cú Chulaind or Cúchulainn ([kuːˈxʊlˠɪnʲ] (listen); Irish for "Culann's Hound") and sometimes known in English as Cuhullin , is an Irish mythological hero who appears in the stories of the Ulster Cycle, as well as in Scottish and Manx folklore. He is believed to be an incarnation of the god Lugh, who is also his father. His mother is the mortal Deichtine, sister of Conchobar mac Nessa.

Born Sétanta, he gained his better-known name as a child, after killing Culann's fierce guard-dog in self-defence and offered to take its place until a replacement could be reared. At the age of seventeen he defended Ulster single-handedly against the armies of queen Medb of Connacht in the famous Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley"). It was prophesied that his great deeds would give him everlasting fame, but his life would be a short one. He is known for his terrifying battle frenzy, or ríastrad (translated by Thomas Kinsella as "warp spasm" and by Ciarán Carson as "torque"), in which he becomes an unrecognisable monster who knows neither friend nor foe. He fights from his chariot, driven by his loyal charioteer Láeg and drawn by his horses, Liath Macha and Dub Sainglend. In more modern times, Cú Chulainn is often referred to as the "Hound of Ulster".Cú Chulainn shows striking similarities to the legendary Persian hero Rostam, as well as to the Germanic Lay of Hildebrand and the labours of the Greek epic hero Heracles, suggesting a common Indo-European origin, but lacking in linguistic, anthropological and archaeological material.

Diffuse esophageal spasm

Diffuse esophageal spasm (DES) is a condition characterized by uncoordinated contractions of the esophagus, which may cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or regurgitation. In some cases, it may cause symptoms such as chest pain, similar to heart disease. The cause of DES remains unknown.

Certain abnormalities on x-ray imaging are commonly observed in DES, such as a "corkscrew" or "rosary bead esophagus", although these findings are not unique to this condition. Specialized testing called manometry can be performed to evaluate the motor function of the esophagus, which can help identify abnormal patterns of muscle contraction within the esophagus that are suggestive of DES. The treatment of DES consists primarily of medications, such as acid suppressing agents (like proton pump inhibitors), calcium channel blockers, hyoscine butylbromide, or nitrates. In only extremely rare cases, surgery may be considered. People with DES have higher incidences of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and anxiety.

Epileptic spasms

Epileptic spasms, also known as infantile spasms, juvenile spasms, or West syndrome is an uncommon-to-rare epileptic disorder in infants, children and adults. It is named after the English physician, William James West (1793–1848), who first described it in an article published in The Lancet in 1841. The original case actually described his own son, James Edwin West (1840–1860). Other names for it are "generalized flexion epilepsy", "infantile epileptic encephalopathy", "infantile myoclonic encephalopathy", "jackknife convulsions", "massive myoclonia" and "Salaam spasms". The term "infantile spasms" can be used to describe the specific seizure manifestation in the syndrome, but is also used as a synonym for the syndrome itself. West syndrome in modern usage is the triad of infantile spasms, a pathognomonic EEG pattern (called hypsarrhythmia), and developmental regression – although the international definition requires only two out of these three elements.

The syndrome is age-related, generally occurring between the third and the twelfth month, generally manifesting around the fifth month. There are various causes. The syndrome is often caused by an organic brain dysfunction whose origins may be prenatal, perinatal (caused during birth) or postnatal.

Hemifacial spasm

Hemifacial spasm (HFS) is a rare neuromuscular disease characterized by irregular, involuntary muscle contractions (spasms) on one side (hemi-) of the face (-facial). The facial muscles are controlled by the facial nerve (seventh cranial nerve), which originates at the brainstem and exits the skull below the ear where it separates into five main branches.

This disease takes two forms: typical and atypical. In typical form, the twitching usually starts in the lower eyelid in orbicularis oculi muscle. As time progresses, it spreads to the whole lid, then to the orbicularis oris muscle around the lips, and buccinator muscle in the cheekbone area. The reverse process of twitching occurs in atypical hemifacial spasm; twitching starts in orbicularis oris muscle around the lips, and buccinator muscle in the cheekbone area in the lower face, then progresses up to the orbicularis oculi muscle in the eyelid as time progresses. The most common form is the typical form, and atypical form is only seen in about 2–3% of patients with hemifacial spasm. The incidence of hemifacial spasm is approximately 0.8 per 100,000 persons.This disorder occurs in both men and women, although it affects middle-aged or elderly women more frequently. Hemifacial spasm is much more common in some Asian populations. It may be caused by a facial nerve injury, a tumor, or it may have no apparent cause. Individuals with spasm on both sides of the face are very rare.


Laryngospasm is an uncontrolled or involuntary muscular contraction (spasm) of the vocal folds. The condition typically lasts less than 60 seconds, but in some cases can last 20–30 minutes and causes a partial blocking of breathing in, while breathing out remains easier. It may be triggered when the vocal cords or the area of the trachea below the vocal folds detects the entry of water, mucus, blood, or other substance. It is characterized by stridor and/or retractions. Some people suffer from frequent laryngospasms, whether awake or asleep. In an ear, nose, and throat practice, it is typically seen in people who have silent reflux disease. It is also a well known, infrequent, but serious perioperative complication.It is likely that more than 10% of drownings involve laryngospasm, but the evidence suggests that it is not usually effective at preventing water from entering the trachea.

Paroxysmal attack

Paroxysmal attacks or paroxysms (from Greek παροξυσμός) are a sudden recurrence or intensification of symptoms, such as a spasm or seizure. These short, frequent, symptoms can be observed in various clinical conditions. They are usually associated with multiple sclerosis or pertussis, but they may also be observed in other disorders such as encephalitis, head trauma, stroke, asthma, trigeminal neuralgia, breath-holding spells, epilepsy, malaria, tabes dorsalis, and Behçet's disease, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). It has also been noted as a symptom of gratification disorder in children.

The word paroxysm means "sudden attack, outburst", and comes from the Greek παροξυσμός (paroxusmos), "irritation, exasperation".Paroxysmal attacks in various disorders have been reported extensively and ephaptic coupling of demyelinated nerves has been presumed as one of the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon. This is supported by the presence of these attacks in multiple sclerosis and tabes dorsalis, which both involve demyelination of spinal cord neurons. Exercise, tactile stimuli, hot water, anxiety and neck flexion may provoke paroxysmal attacks. Most reported paroxysmal attacks are painful tonic spasms, dysarthria and ataxia, numbness and hemiparesis. They are typically different from other transient symptoms by their brevity (lasting no more than 2 minutes), frequency (from 1-2 times/day up to a few hundred times/day), stereotyped fashion and excellent response to drugs (usually carbamazepine). Withdrawal of symptoms without any residual neurological finding is another key feature in their recognition.

Proctalgia fugax

Proctalgia fugax (a variant of levator ani syndrome) is a severe, episodic pain in the regions of the rectum and anus. It can be caused by cramp of the levator ani muscle, particularly in the pubococcygeal part.

Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction

Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction refers to a group of functional disorders leading to abdominal pain due to dysfunction of the Sphincter of Oddi: functional biliary sphincter of Oddi and functional pancreatic sphincter of Oddi disorder. The sphincter of Oddi is a sphincter muscle, a circular band of muscle at the bottom of the biliary tree which controls the flow of pancreatic juices and bile into the second part of the duodenum. The pathogenesis of this condition is recognized to encompass stenosis or dyskinesia of the sphincter of Oddi (especially after cholecystectomy); consequently the terms biliary dyskinesia, papillary stenosis, and postcholecystectomy syndrome have all been used to describe this condition. Both stenosis and dyskinesia can obstruct flow through the sphincter of Oddi and can therefore cause retention of bile in the biliary tree and pancreatic juice in the pancreatic duct.

Individuals with sphincter of Oddi dysfunction present with abdominal pain resembling that of structural or inflammatory disorders of the gallbladder, biliary tree or pancreas. Among other characteristics, the pain is typically in the upper part of the abdomen or in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen, lasts 30 minutes or longer, and is not associated with a structural abnormality that could lead to these symptoms. The disorder is classified into two subtypes: functional biliary sphincter of Oddi disorder, where there is no disturbance in pancreatic enzyme measurements, such as amylase and lipase; and, functional pancreatic sphincter of Oddi disorder, where pancreatic enzyme measurements are elevated.

Attacks can be precipitated by opioid analgesics, particularly in patients having undergone a cholecystectomy or bariatric surgery.

Trousseau sign of latent tetany

Trousseau sign of latent tetany is a medical sign observed in patients with low calcium. From 1 to 4 percent of normal patients will test positive for Trousseau's sign of latent tetany. This sign may be positive before other manifestations of hypocalcemia such as hyperreflexia and tetany, as such it is generally believed to be more sensitive (94%) than the Chvostek sign (29%) for hypocalcemia.To elicit the sign, a blood pressure cuff is placed around the arm and inflated to a pressure greater than the systolic blood pressure and held in place for 3 minutes. This will occlude the brachial artery. In the absence of blood flow, the patient's hypocalcemia and subsequent neuromuscular irritability will induce spasm of the muscles of the hand and forearm. The wrist and metacarpophalangeal joints flex, the DIP and PIP joints extend, and the fingers adduct. The sign is also known as main d'accoucheur (French for "hand of the obstetrician") because it supposedly resembles the position of an obstetrician's hand in delivering a baby.

The sign is named after French physician Armand Trousseau who described the phenomenon in 1861. It is distinct from the Trousseau sign of malignancy.

Variant angina

Variant angina, often termed Prinzmetal's angina, Prinzmetal angina (), and less commonly vasospastic angina, angina inversa, coronary vessel spasm, or coronary artery vasospasm, is a syndrome typically consisting of angina (cardiac chest pain) that unlike classical angina, which is triggered by exertion or exercise, commonly occurs in individuals at rest or even asleep. It is caused by vasospasm, a narrowing of the coronary arteries due to contraction of the smooth muscle tissue in the vessel walls. This contrasts with classical angina which is due to the permanent occlusion of these vessels by atherosclerosis (i.e. buildup of fatty plaque and hardening of the arteries).Dr. William Heberden is credited with being the first to describe in a 1768 publication the occurrence of chest pain attacks (i.e. angina pectoris) that appeared due to pathologically occluded coronary arteries. These attacks were triggered by exercise or other forms of exertion and relieved by rest and nitroglycerin. In 1959, Dr. Myron Prinzmetal described a type of angina that differed from the classic cases of Heberden angina in that it commonly occurred in the absence of exercise or exertion. Indeed, it often woke sufferers from their normal sleep. This variant angina differed from the classical angina described by Dr. Heberden in that it appeared due to episodic vasospasm of coronary arteries that were typically not occluded by pathological processes such as atherosclerosis, emboli, or spontaneous dissection (i.e. tears in the walls of coronary arteries). Variant angina had been described twice in the 1930s by other authors and was referred to as cardiac syndrome X (CSX) by Kemp in 1973, in reference to patients with exercise-induced angina who nonetheless had normal coronary angiograms. CSX is now termed microvascular angina, i.e. angina caused by disease of the heart's small arteries.Some key features of variant angina are chest pain that is concurrently associated with elevations in the ST segment on electrocardiography recordings, that often occurs during the late evening or early morning hours in individuals who are at rest, doing non-strenuous activities, or asleep, and that is not associated with permanent occlusions of their coronary vessels. The disorder seems to occur more often in women than men, has a particularly high incidence in Japanese males as well as females, and afflicts individuals who may smoke tobacco products but exhibit few other cardiovascular risk factors. However, individuals exhibiting angina symptoms that are associated with depressions in their electrocardiogram ST segments, that are triggered by exertion, and/or who have atherosclerotic coronary artery disease are still considered to suffer variant angina if their symptoms are caused by coronary artery spasms. Finally, rare cases may exhibit symptom-free coronary artery spasm that is nonetheless associated with cardiac muscle ischemia (i.e. restricted blood flow and poor oxygenation) along with concurrent ischemic electrocardiographic changes. The term vasospastic angina is sometimes used to include all of these atypical cases with the more typical cases of variant angina. Here, variant angina is taken to include typical and atypical cases.

For a portion of patients, variant angina may be a manifestation of a more generalized episodic smooth muscle-contractile disorder such as migraine, Raynaud's phenomenon, or aspirin-induced asthma. Variant angina is also the major complication of eosinophilic coronary periarteritis, an extremely rare disorder caused by extensive eosinophilic infiltration of the adventitia and periadventitia, i.e. the soft tissues, surrounding the coronary arteries. Variant angina also differs from the Kounis syndrome (also termed allergic acute coronary syndrome) in which coronary artery constriction and symptoms are caused by allergic or strong immune reactions to a drug or other substance. Treatment of the Kounis syndrome very much differs from that for variant angina.


Vasospasm refers to a condition in which an arterial spasm leads to vasoconstriction. This can lead to tissue ischemia and tissue death (necrosis). Cerebral vasospasm may arise in the context of subarachnoid hemorrhage. Symptomatic vasospasm or delayed cerebral ischemia is a major contributor to post-operative stroke and death especially after aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. Vasospasm typically appears 4 to 10 days after subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Along with physical resistance, vasospasm is a main cause of ischemia. Like physical resistance, vasospasms can occur due to atherosclerosis. Vasospasm is the major cause of Prinzmetal's angina.

Symptoms and signs: nervous and musculoskeletal systems (R25–R29, 781.0, 781.2–9)
Primarily nervous system
Primarily muscular
Primarily skeletal
Primarily joint
Myopathy (M60–M63, 728.0–3,8)

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.