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Basal ganglia dysfunction

Basal ganglia dysfunction is a problem with the deep brain structures that help start and control movement.

Alternative Names

Extra-pyramidal syndrome

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Athetosis resulting from basal ganglia injury
Athetosis resulting from basal ganglia injury

Conditions that cause injury to the brain can damage the basal ganglia. Such conditions include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Copper poisoning
  • Drug overdose
  • Head injury
  • Infection
  • Liver disease
  • Metabolic problems
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Stroke
  • Tumors

Many brain disorders are associated with basal ganglia dysfunction. They include:

This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Damage to the basal ganglia cells may cause problems with one's ability to control speech, movement, and posture. A person with basal ganglia dysfunction may have difficulty starting, stopping, or sustaining movement. Depending on which area is affected, there may also be problems with memory and other thought processes.

In general, symptoms vary and may include:

  • Movement changes, such as involuntary or slowed movements
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Muscle spasms and muscle rigidity
  • Memory loss
  • Problems finding words
  • Tremor
  • Uncontrollable, repeated movements, speech, or cries (tics)
  • Walking difficulty

Signs and tests

The doctor or nurse will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history. Blood and imaging tests may be needed. This may include:

  • CT and MRI of the head
  • Genetic testing
  • Magnetic resonance angiography to look at the blood vessels in the neck and brain
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) to look at the metabolism of the brain
  • Blood tests to check blood sugar, thyroid function, liver function, and iron and copper levels

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the disorder.

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the cause of the dysfunction. Some causes are reversible, while others require lifelong treatment.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have any abnormal or involuntary movements, unexplainable falls, or if you or others notice that you are shaky or slow.

References

Lang AE. Parkinsonism. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 416.

Jankovic J. Movement disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 71.

Lang AE. Other movement disorders. In: Goldman L, SchaferAI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 417.

Updated: 8/28/2012

Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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