By Real World Health Care Editorial Staff  |  Mar 25, 2020

What Are Movement Disorders?

Throughout 2020, Real World Health Care will focus on Movement Disorders. Movement disorders are related to the nervous system. They include a variety of neurological conditions that cause increased, abnormal movements (voluntary or involuntary) or reduced, slow movements. Some movement disorders are inherited, while others are caused by infection, medication or disease. Several movement disorders are quite rare. In this column, we will provide an overview of several movement disorders, to help you understand what they are, what causes them, and how they may be treated.

What is Chorea?

Chorea is an abnormal involuntary movement disorder caused by overactivity of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain that control movement. It is one of a group of neurological disorders called dyskinesias. Chorea is characterized by brief, irregular contractions that are not repetitive or rhythmic, but appear to flow from one muscle to the next. The condition occurs with athetosis, which adds twisting and writing movements. Chorea is a primary feature of Huntington’s Disease but may also occur in a variety of other conditions. It also can be induced by drugs, metabolic and endocrine disorders, and vascular incidents. A small percentage of children and adolescents who have had rheumatic fever may also get a form of chorea called Sydenham’s chorea.

There is no standard treatment for chorea. Treatment and prognosis depend on the type of chorea and the associated disease. However, Sydenham’s chorea is treatable and curable.

For more information on Chorea, visit the Hereditary Disease Foundation.

What is Huntington’s Disease?

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is an inherited disease that causes nerve cells in certain parts of the brain to die. This includes nerve cells that help to control voluntary movement. HD symptoms such as uncontrolled movements, clumsiness and balance problems typically appear in middle age, between 30 and 50, and progressively get worse. Eventually, HD can take away a person’s ability to walk, talk and swallow. Changes in behavior, emotion, judgment and cognition are also common. Some people stop recognizing family members, while others are aware of their environment and can express emotions.

There is currently no cure for HD. Medicines can help manage some of HD’s emotional and movement problem symptoms but cannot slow down or stop the disease. People with HD usually die within 10 to 30 years following symptom onset, most commonly from infections like pneumonia and injuries related to falls.

For more information on Huntington’s Disease, visit the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that happens when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough dopamine, resulting in abnormal nerve firing patterns within the brain that cause impaired movement. While some cases of PD are genetic, most do not run in families. It is thought that exposure to chemicals in the environment may play a role. PD is more common in men than in women.

Symptoms begin gradually, around age 60, and are often mild, occurring on one side of the body. Later symptoms affect both sides and, as they get worse, people experience trouble walking, talking, chewing and swallowing, or doing simple tasks. Common symptoms include:

  • Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Poor balance and coordination

There is no cure for PD. A variety of medicines sometimes help symptoms dramatically. Surgery and deep brain stimulation can help severe cases.

For more information about Parkinson’s Disease, visit the American Parkinson Disease Association and the National Parkinson’s Foundation.

What is Tardive Dyskinesia?

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is a neurological disorder that involves involuntary movements such as facial grimacing, finger movement, rocking or thrusting the pelvis, jaw swinging, repetitive chewing, rapid blinking, tongue thrusting and restlessness. It is a serious side effect that occurs when taking medicines called neuroleptics, which are antipsychotics or major tranquilizers used to treat mental health problems. TD often occurs when such drugs are taken for many months or years, but in some cases, it occurs after taking them for as little as six weeks.

After TD is diagnosed, a patient’s health care provider may recommend stopping the medicine slowly or switching to another one, which may help to reverse the condition. However, even if the medicine is stopped, the involuntary movements may become permanent or even worse. Various medicines are available to treat mild and moderate TD, and deep brain stimulation may be tried for severe forms of TD.

For more information on TD, visit Mental Health America or the National Institute of Mental Health.

What is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a disorder of the nervous system. People with TS make sudden, unusual movements or sounds called tics. Common tics include throat-clearing, blinking, facial grimacing, shrugging one’s shoulders, jerking one’s arms and occasionally repeating words or blurting out swear words. Those with TS have little or no control over their tics, which usually start in childhood and may be worse in the early teen years. Many people eventually outgrow them, although 10-15 percent of those affected have a progressive or disabling course that lasts into adulthood.

TS is more common in boys than in girls and its cause is unknown. More than 85 percent of children diagnosed with TS also have been diagnosed with at least one additional mental, behavioral or developmental condition, most commonly attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). No treatment is needed unless the tics interfere with everyday life. Excitement or worry can make tics worse. Calm, focused activities may make them better. Medicines and talk therapy may also help when symptoms interfere with functioning.

For more information about TS, visit the Tourette Association of America.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mayo Clinic

National Institutes of Health