Benign fasciculation syndrome or BFS causes involuntary twitches, spasms, subjective weakness, cramps, tingling, or numbness in at least one muscle. According to the American Academy of Neurology, benign fasciculations are common and occur in roughly 70% of healthy individuals; in rare instances, a serious neuromuscular disorder is to blame. Stress and anxiety can exacerbate BFS, especially in people working in the medical field. Most people experience twitches in an eyelid or random muscle spasms at some point, but doctors diagnose benign fasciculation syndrome when such symptoms are recurring and negatively impact daily life.
BFS symptoms differ among affected individuals. Persistent twitching in one or more muscles is the most common symptom. Calves and thigh twitches are most common, and eyelids and arms can host involuntary twitches as well, but even the tongue can experience involuntary movement. Fasciculations may appear randomly and jump from one muscle group to another, or one muscle can be symptomatic for an extended period.
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Researches have not identified an exact cause of BFS, but several theories explore contributing factors. Possible causes include overexertion of the muscle, regular strenuous exercise, damaged nerves, mineral deficiencies, and anxiety. Anticholinergics and opiates can trigger BFS. Common anticholinergics are allergy medications, and opiates are prescription-strength painkillers. Withdrawal from opiates is known to cause temporary restless leg syndrome, twitches in the eyelids, and involuntary jerks and spasms in muscles.
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BFS is not a straightforward diagnosis and partly relies on ruling out other disorders such as multiple sclerosis or Lou Gerig's disease (ALS). The final diagnosis requires examination by a neurologist. Doctors test tendon reflexes and conduct strength and resistance tests. Patients are asked to provide medical history, personal background, and stress levels. A neurological examination and electromyography (EMG) investigate possible nerve damage.
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No medication or treatment can relieve BFS symptoms permanently. Treatment is targeted to manage symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers may alleviate pain, fatigue, and inflammation. Anti-seizure medications or beta-blockers can relieve symptoms, but physicians must weigh the benefits against the risks, as these can also have severe side effects. Common pain relievers purchased over-the-counter are often sufficient. Heating pads are also effective in some cases.
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A healthy diet rich in nutrients is important in treating benign fasciculation syndrome. Blood work identifies mineral deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances, most commonly causing low magnesium or calcium. Supplements can rebuild these depleted stores; eating probiotics in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or miso can aid digestion and vitamin or mineral absorption. A dietician can help individuals adjust their diets to ensure all vitamins and nutrients are present in food.
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The symptoms of benign fasciculation syndrome are not life-threatening; taken as individual occurrences, they do not have a serious impact on daily life or health. Taken as a whole, however, BFS can negatively impact well-being and quality of life if allowed to continue unchecked. Muscle spasms are more noticeable when the muscle is at rest, so symptoms often interrupt sleep, and frequent or long-lasting muscle spasms result in pain. Numbness and weakness can lead to falls or dropped items, which in turn leads to injury or an inability to work, cook, or complete other daily tasks.
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BFS frequently induces stress and anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety can mirror some effects of BFS, such as a lump in the throat, headaches, or shortness of breath. Feelings of itchiness or shakiness in muscles, fatigue, stiffness, or sudden, jerking involuntary muscle spasms are also symptoms of both anxiety and BFS. Stress and anxiety trigger BFS flare-ups so it is often difficult to determine the cause of shared symptoms and a cycle of anxiety and exacerbated BFS can occur.
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It is vital for individuals with benign fasciculation syndrome to adjust their lifestyle and adopt coping skills for stress and anxiety. Meditating, yoga, calming music, or spending time with a pet are healthy ways to reduce daily stress. Journaling or talking with friends and family can also help people manage anxiety. Talk therapy and other types of counseling can help people deal with ongoing mental health concerns.
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Simple lifestyle changes can reduce symptoms of BFS and lead to better health overall. People may reduce stress by exercising more, getting more sleep, working less, and eliminating caffeine, which found in coffee, chocolate, soda, and some over-the-counter medications. Frustratingly, caffeine can be helpful for relieving pain from headaches and some other symptoms but may increase pain caused by BFS.
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Although benign fasciculation syndrome cannot be cured, most people can manage their symptoms efficiently enough for vast reductions in involuntary twitches and spasms For those with long-term managed symptoms, months or years can pass between flare-ups and sometimes symptoms disappear on their own. BFS rarely leads to severe illness or diagnosis.
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