Bradykinesia refers to slow or difficult movement. It can occur along with muscle weakness, rigidity, or tremors. Causes may include hypothyroidism, toxin exposure, and brain tumors.

Bradykinesia can result from various conditions, including a stroke or a brain tumor, but it is most often associated with Parkinson’s disease. It is one of the main symptoms that a doctor uses to diagnose the disease.

In this article, we look at the symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatment for bradykinesia.

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“Bradykinesia” refers to slow or difficult movement. A person with bradykinesia may take much longer than usual to make everyday movements, such as lifting the arms or legs.

As Parkinson’s progresses, bradykinesia can worsen, and a person may be increasingly less able to move and respond.

However, bradykinesia affects individuals in different ways. People experience different features of this issue, and not everyone experiences the same progression.

Bradykinesia is related to akinesia, which involves delayed responses, freezing during movement, or an inability to move.

People often use the words bradykinesia, hypokinesia, and akinesia interchangeably, but they are different:

  • Hypokinesia means “smallness of movement.”
  • Akinesia means “absence of movement.”
  • Bradykinesia means “slowness of movement.”

A person with akinesia is unable to move when they cannot build up enough power. A person with bradykinesia moves, but slowly. Both can be features of Parkinson’s disease.

Advances in medical technology have helped experts distinguish between these terms and provide more specific descriptions of symptoms.

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In addition to slow movements and reflexes, a person with bradykinesia may experience:

  • immobile or frozen muscles
  • limited facial expression
  • a shuffling gait or dragging a foot while walking
  • difficulty doing repetitive tasks, such as typing
  • trouble speaking and swallowing

These can affect a person’s mobility and ability to carry out daily tasks.

A person with bradykinesia may experience a “sequence effect,” in which movement patterns change during an activity. For example, the steps a person takes may become progressively smaller.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

To diagnose bradykinesia, doctors use the bradykinesia akinesia incoordination test, or “BRAIN” test. This involves the person doing a series of rapid taps on a keyboard with alternating fingers for 1 minute.

The doctor scores the test based on:

  • the number of correct keys hit
  • the number of incorrect keys hit
  • how long it takes to hit the keys

The results help determine whether someone has bradykinesia and how severe it is. It is also used in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease.

Learn more about how doctors diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

The treatment for bradykinesia depends on the cause. If this is a stroke or brain tumor, the doctor may recommend surgery, medication, and other approaches.

However, bradykinesia most commonly occurs with Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms of this disease result from low levels of dopamine in the brain. One avenue of treatment involves boosting the body’s dopamine levels.

Examples of dopamine-boosting medications include:

  • levodopa or the combination drug carbidopa/levodopa (Sinemet)
  • monoamine oxidase type B, or MAO-B, inhibitors
  • dopamine agonists

Levodopa can relieve some aspects of bradykinesia, but it does not prevent the issue from worsening.

If medications do not help, deep brain stimulation may be an option. First, a surgeon implants electrodes into the brain and a neurostimulator, a kind of pacemaker, under the skin. A wire links the two parts.

The neurostimulator sends electrical impulses along the wire, through the electrode, and into the brain. The impulses interfere with the electrical signals that cause symptoms.

Other, less invasive, approaches that may help with bradykinesia include physical therapy and exercise, which research suggests can improve muscle strength and may help restore some neurological function.

Also, it is essential to speak with a healthcare professional before significantly changing the daily routine to make sure that these changes are suitable.

Learn more about treatment options for Parkinson’s disease.

Experts still do not know exactly why bradykinesia happens. It appears to result from changes in nervous system networks that affect movement.

Specific parts of the central nervous system that seem to be involved include the basal ganglia and brain structures that link to it, such as the primary motor cortex and the cerebellum.

Changes in sensorimotor processing — the way a person moves in response to information from the senses — may also play a role.

Bradykinesia can occur with various forms of Parkinson’s disease, including vascular parkinsonism, which results from changes in the blood supply to the brain.

Other causes include:

When determining whether a person has Parkinson’s disease, a doctor may order a brain scan and other tests to help rule out the causes above.

What are the causes and risk factors of Parkinson’s disease?

A person with bradykinesia moves slowly because of changes in the brain that affect movement. Parkinson’s disease is the most common cause, but bradykinesia can also result from a stroke and other factors.

There is no cure for bradykinesia, but treating the underlying cause may help relieve it. For a person with Parkinson’s disease, this may involve exercise, physical therapy, and medications to boost dopamine levels in the brain.