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 facialts 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.
The first sign of hemifacial spasm is typically muscle movement in the patient’s eyelid and around the eye. It can vary in intensity. The intermittent twitching of the eyelid, which can result in forced closure of the eye which gradually spreads to the muscles of the lower part of the face (Typical form- See Image). In atypical form the spasms start in the cheekbone area and spreads to the eyelid. Ultimately, all the muscles on that side are affected, nearly all the time. This sometimes causes the mouth to be pulled to the side. Experts have linked hemifacial spasm to facial nerve injury, Bell’s palsy and tumors. Although the most frequent cause is a blood vessel pressing on the facial nerve at the spot where it leaves the patient’s brain stem, sometimes there is no known cause. When the affected individual is younger than 40, doctors suspect an underlying cause such as multiple sclerosis.
Mild cases of hemifacial spasm may be managed with sedation or carbamazepine (an anticonvulsant drug). Microsurgical decompression and botulinum toxin injections are the current main treatments used for hemifacial spasm.
Microvascular decompression appears to be the most popular surgical treatment at present. Microvascular decompression relieves pressure on the facial nerve, which is the cause of most hemifacial spasm cases. Excellent to good results are reported in 80% or more cases with a 10% recurrence rate. In the present series approximately 10% had previously failed surgery. Serious complications can follow microsurgical decompressive operations, even when performed by experienced surgeons. These include cerebellar haematoma or swelling, brain stem infarction (blood vessel of the brain stem blocked), cerebral infarction (ischemic stroke resulting from a disturbance in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain), subdural haematoma and intracerebral infarction (blockage of blood flow to the brain). Death or permanent disability (hearing loss) can occur in 2% of patients of hemifacial spasm.
Botulinum toxin is highly effective in the treatment of hemifacial spasm. It has a success rate equal to that of surgery, but repeated injections may be required every 3 to 6 months. The injections are administered as an outpatient or office procedure. Whilst side effects occur, these are never permanent. Repeated injections over the years remain highly effective. Whilst the toxin is expensive, the cost of even prolonged courses of injections compares favourably with the cost of surgery. Patients with HFS should be offered a number of treatment options. Very mild cases or those who are reluctant to have surgery or Botulinum toxin injections can be offered medical treatment, sometimes as a temporary measure. In young and fit patients microsurgical decompression and Botulinum injections should be discussed as alternative procedures. In the majority of cases, and especially in the elderly and the unfit, Botulinum toxin injection is the treatment of first choice. Imaging procedures should be done in all unusual cases of hemifacial spasm and when surgery is contemplated. Patients with hemifacial spasm were shown to have decreased sweating after botulinum toxin injections. This was first observed in 1993 by Khalaf Bushara and David Park. This was the first demonstration of nonmuscular use of BTX-A. Bushara further showed the efficacy of botulinum toxin in treating hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). BTX-A was later approved for the treatment of excessive underarm sweating. This is technically known as severe primary axillary hyperhidrosis – excessive underarm sweating with an unknown cause which cannot be managed by topical agents (see focal hyperhidrosis).