Movement disorders


Overview of movement disorders

Diseases marked by uncontrolled or unwanted physical movements are called movement disorders. Your nervous system —brain, spinal cord, and nerves —controls when and how your body moves. Problems with your nervous system or the muscles it acts on can lead to a movement disorder.

Parkinson’s disease may be the best-known movement disorder, but the term covers more than a dozen other conditions, including cerebral palsy, dystonia, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis.

At Dignity Health, we care for patients with a range of movement disorders in AZ, CA, and NV, offering them personalized treatment. Find a Doctor to learn more.

Signs and symptoms of movement disorders vary depending on the underlying cause. In general, signs and symptoms of movement disorders include problems with physical coordination, trouble walking, episodes of uncontrolled movements (such as during a seizure), muscle weakness, twitching, or muscle spasm.

Causes of movement disorders

Some movement disorders are genetic, such as Huntington’s disease. These disorders can be inherited (passed down) from a parent through an abnormal gene —a gene mutation. Other movement disorders occur for no known reason.

Researchers believe movement disorders may be the result of autoimmune diseases, nervous system injury, infections, or even certain medications. Some medications may affect the nervous system and cause symptoms similar to those of a movement disorder. Changing medication or its dosage usually reverses these symptoms.

Here’s what’s known so far about more well-known movement disorders:

  • Parkinson’s disease is from a loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells and other changes in the brain. It’s thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors cause this disease.
  • Cerebral palsy is due to abnormal brain development in areas responsible for coordination and balance. The exact cause is not known in most cases, but risk factors include infections during pregnancy that are passed from the mother to her baby, lack of oxygen or injury to the baby during pregnancy or labor, and premature birth.
  • Dystonia appears to be due to damage or abnormal function in the parts of the brain that control muscle movement. Some people inherit dystonia. Other risk factors include injury during birth, infections, poisoning, brain trauma, and stroke.
  • Epilepsy is marked by repeated seizures triggered by malfunctioning nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. A specific cause is not known for about half the cases of epilepsy. Abnormal genes, injury, infection, and tumors affecting brain development and nerve cell function are known causes of epilepsy.
  • Multiple sclerosis is due to the erosion of the protective covering of nerve fibers, which disrupts the ability of nerves to rapidly send signals throughout the body. It is thought to be an autoimmune disorder.

Treatment of movement disorders depends on the specific defect and disease process. In general, your treatment at Dignity Health will focus on controlling muscle movements (such as tremor), slowing progression of the disease, and improving your quality of life. Medication, physical therapy, and occupational therapy can help. Surgery is a possible treatment for some disorders.

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