Myoclonus is brief, involuntary twitching of a muscle or a group of muscles. It describes a medical sign and, generally, is not a diagnosis of a disease. Brief twitches are perfectly normal. The myoclonic twitches are usually caused by sudden muscle contractions; they also can result from brief lapses of contraction. Contractions are called positive myoclonus; relaxations are called negative myoclonus. The most common time for people to encounter them is while falling asleep (hypnic jerk), but myoclonic jerks are also a sign of a number of neurological disorders. Hiccups are also a kind of myoclonic jerk specifically affecting the diaphragm. Also when a spasm is caused by another person it is known as a "provoked spasm". Shuddering attacks with babies also fall in this category.
Myoclonic jerks may occur alone or in sequence, in a pattern or without pattern. They may occur infrequently or many times each minute. Most often, myoclonus is one of several signs in a wide variety of nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), serotonin toxicity, and some forms of epilepsy. Some researchers indicate that jerks persistently may even cause early tremors.
In almost all instances in which myoclonus is caused by central nervous system disease it is preceded by other symptoms; for instance, in CJD it is generally a late-stage clinical feature that appears after the patient has already started to exhibit gross neurological deficits.
Anatomically, myoclonus may originate from lesions of the cortex, subcortex or spinal cord. The presence of myoclonus above the foramen magnum effectively excludes spinal myoclonus, but further localisation relies on further investigation with electromyography (EMG) and electroencephalography (EEG).