Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders

What are movement disorders?

Movement disorders are brain disorders that cause impaired movement. Nerve diseases cause lots of movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. Often, movement disorders are hereditary. Other times, they’re caused by injuries, autoimmune diseases, or infections. With movement disorders, you may notice that you have dyskinesia or tremors.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a type of movement disorder, and results from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain. The four primary symptoms of Parkinson’s are:

  • Tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face
  • Rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement
  • Postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination

As these symptoms become worse, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Parkinson’s usually affects people over the age of 50. Although the early symptoms of Parkinson’s are subtle, as the disease progresses, the tremor which affects most Parkinson’s patients may start to get in the way of daily activities. Patients may also have depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions.

How is Parkinson’s disease treated?

For now, there is no cure, but medications can help. Usually, patients are given a medicine called levodopa combined with one called carbidopa. Here’s some more information about levopoda:

  • Nerve cells can use levodopa to make dopamine and replenish the brain’s dwindling supply
  • Carbidopa keeps levodopa from being made into dopamine until it reaches the brain
  • Although levodopa helps in at least 75% of Parkinson’s cases, not all symptoms respond equally
  • Bradykinesia and rigidity respond best, while tremor may be only reduced a little bit. Problems with balance and other symptoms may not be relieved at all.

In some cases, surgery may be appropriate if the disease doesn’t respond to drugs. A therapy called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has now been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In DBS:

  • Electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small electrical device that can be externally programmed
  • PD patients may not need as much levodopa and other drugs, which in turn decreases side effects
  • Fluctuation of symptoms and to reduce tremors, slowness of movements, and gait problems can be eased

DBS requires careful programming of the stimulator device in order to work correctly.