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Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that results when some of the nerve centers in the brain lose their ability to regulate the movement of muscles.

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A person may have rigid muscles and tremors and difficulty walking and swallowing.

Parkinson's disease is one of the most common diseases to affect movement in people over age 55. The cause is unknown, although Parkinson’s-like conditions can be seen after stroke, encephalitis, carbon monoxide or manganese poisoning, and head trauma.

More than 650,000 people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Tremor of the hands and sometimes the head are major Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The tremor is an involuntary rhythmic shaking, often accompanied by continuous rubbing together of the thumb and forefinger.

If the disorder worsens, the person may gradually stop making some movements that are normally automatic, such as swinging arms when walking.

It becomes difficult to write legibly, speak clearly, begin to do something, change positions, get out of a chair or walk balanced. Other possible symptoms of Parkinson's disease are drooling, abdominal cramps, slight limp, stooped posture or mild tremor.

Treatment of Movement Disorders

Medication is often prescribed as a Parkinson's disease treatment to help restore the proper balance of chemicals in the body in people who have movement disorders.

The main goal of Parkinson's disease treatment is to keep movements as normal as possible with the smallest amount of medication, since many medications can cause side effects.

Cases that do not respond to medication may require surgery, often aimed at interrupting abnormal movements. Various available procedures may be used during surgery to optimize the benefit as different targets are tested.

One procedure is pallidotomy, a computer-assisted neurosurgery, aimed at reducing tremor, rigidity and other symptoms by destroying the areas of the brain that caused these symptoms.

Another Parkinson's disease treatment option is thalamotomy, which involves making a lesion in the thalamus, the area of the brain that is the source of tremor. Both procedures are irreversible and may have permanent side effects.

In 1997, stereotactic insertion of a deep brain stimulator into the thalmus was introduced as a procedure for essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease treatment. The advantage of this type of operation is that instead of destroying overactive cells that cause the symptoms, it temporarily disables them by firing rapid pulses of electricity between 4 electrodes at the tip of the lead.

The lead is permanently implanted and connected to a pacemaker controller installed beneath the skin of the chest.

An alternative to making a lesion with an electrode is to use highly focused radiation.

Two types of devices can be used to deliver stereotactic radiosurgery, namely the Gamma Knife and the LINAC-Scalpel. Lesioning procedures tend to be preferred for younger patients because it eliminates the need for numerous battery changes or hardware in the body. Also, brains of younger people seem to have more plasticity and less chance of a new neurologic deficit.

With tardive dyskinesia, the 1st step of treatment may be to discontinue or alter the neuroleptic drug.

In the cases of dystonia and dyskinesia, other treatments such as injections of botulinum toxin may be the most desirable therapy. The drug weakens certain muscles and lasts several months.

Therapies may be necessary to help patients with language and movement.

Research of Movement Disorders

Research aimed at finding the sources of movement disorders and improved treatments and therapies fall into many categories.

One method under investigation includes fetal cell transplants to reconstitute damaged pathways.

Deep brain stimulators are under investigation for control of these movement disorders and for other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, severe stroke or brain injury.

In addition, gene studies continue to help with the diagnosis and treatment of all movement disorders.

Also, drugs that greatly reduce the risk of movement disorders such as tardive dyskinesia, acute dystonia or drug-induced Parkinsonism are being used and studied.

Wake Forest Baptist Approach

The treatment of movement disorders at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is a collaborative effort between the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Quality of life is further enhanced by the participation of physical, occupational and speech therapists and members of the Otolaryngology Department, who have special expertise in speech and swallowing difficulties.

Surgical treatments including pallidotomy, thalamotomy and thalamic or subthalamic deep brain stimulators are a special area of expertise of the Movement Disorders Center.

Advanced image-guidance combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and microelectrode recording are available to optimize these procedures. Members of the unit also have expertise in botulinum toxin injections to treat movement disorders.

Gamma Knife Center is used to treat tremor, dyskinesia and Parkinson’s disease, as well as for research. The Gamma Knife is a type of stereotactic radiosurgery in which radiation is used with pinpoint accuracy. 

Request a Parkinson's disease appointment online today to receive more information about your personal health and learn how Wake Forest Baptist can help.

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Last Updated: 05-09-2016
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