Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders can be disabling and impair your quality of life. The Tulane Neuroscience Center offers advanced treatment, including stereotactic and functional neurosurgical solutions that can dramatically improve symptoms.

What are movement disorders?

Movement disorders are a group of diseases or conditions that affect your ability to move and to control your movements. Movement disorders commonly affect people as they age. There are many different types of movement disorders, and the team at the Tulane Neuroscience Center is highly experienced in identifying and treating all kinds.

Some common types of movement disorders include:

  • Parkinson’s disease. This neurological disease causes cells deep in the brain to die. These cells produce dopamine, a chemical that has several functions. This loss of dopamine in the brain causes nerve cells to fire out of control. People with Parkinson’s disease may tremble severely, become stiff and have trouble initiating movement. The symptoms get worse with time. Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common movement disorders.
  • Secondary Parkinsonism (also called atypical Parkinsonism). This refers to any condition that causes the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but is caused by something else. These conditions may not respond to the treatments used for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Essential tremor. This condition causes uncontrollable shaking in the hands, arms, head and other body parts. The shaking can make it hard to write, tie your shoes or do other activities. Many people develop essential tremor as they get older. Essential tremor can be inherited, but the exact cause is unknown.
  • Dystonia. This disorder causes your muscles to contract, resulting in twisting and other involuntary movements. The movements can be painful, and can affect one muscle or several. Dystonia is caused by damage to the basal ganglia, a region at the base of the brain. The damage can be caused by trauma, a tumor, stroke, some drugs or other factors.
  • Huntington’s disease. This inherited condition causes unsteady and uncontrollable movements in the hands, feet and face, and mental illness symptoms. Huntington’s disease gets worse with time and eventually interferes with walking and talking. It can greatly shorten your life.
  • Spasticity. This condition, usually caused by damage to the portion of the brain that controls voluntary movement, causes muscles to continuously contract. This contraction can cause stiffness of the muscles and interfere with normal movement, speech and gait.
  • Severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Tourette Syndrome. Both OCD and Tourette cause involuntary, repetitive movements and/or vocalizations. These behaviors can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school and personal relationships.

How are movement disorders diagnosed and treated?

Because most movement disorders cannot be identified with a specific test, our team will do a thorough neurological exam. We will observe how you walk, talk and move, and how you control your facial expressions. We’ll talk to you about your symptoms, your medical history and any family history of movement disorders.

Some tests can help rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as stroke. We may take samples of your blood or spinal fluid. An electromyogram (EMG) or electroencephalogram (EEG) may be performed to monitor electrical activity in your brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or other imaging techniques can help doctors see damage in and around the brain.

Once we know what kind of movement disorder you have, we can work with you to create a treatment plan. Depending on your disorder, age and other factors, treatment options might include:

  • Medication. A number of medicines are used to treat movement disorders. You may need to take several medications to control your disorder. We’ll help find ways to manage your medications to help avoid side effects and to make sure you’re getting the right amount at the right time.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery. This procedure uses a device called a neurostimulator to deliver electrical signals to the areas of the brain that control movement, pain, mood, weight and awakening – almost like a pacemaker for the brain. The small device is usually placed under the collarbone during surgery, and is connected to the part of the brain that causes your symptoms. This device sends electrical pulses that interfere with the signals causing your symptoms. DBS is used to treat Parkinson’s disease and some other movement disorders.
  • Thalamotomy. This surgery destroys a tiny part of the brain called the thalamus. MRI or other imaging techniques help pinpoint the exact location for treatment. The surgeon inserts a hollow probe through a small hole drilled in the skull, and liquid nitrogen flows inside the probe, making the probe extremely cold. The probe is used to destroy the thalamus.
  • Lesioning. Lesioning uses heat, radiation or other methods to injure tiny, precise areas of the brain. The lesions are painless and can prevent the area of the brain from causing your symptoms. Lesioning, also called ablative brain surgery, is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and other movement disorders.

Helpful Resources

Many organizations offer help and support for you and your family. Our team can help you find resources to meet your specific needs. Here are a few places to start:

Medline Plus from the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine

Parkinson’s Disease Foundation