Acetylcholine deficiency is an abnormally low level of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that plays a role in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Patients can develop deficiencies for a number of reasons, and a doctor will need to perform some testing to find out more about a patient's specific case. Treatment can vary, depending on why the patient has low levels, how low they are, and how long the patient has been experiencing problems.
The body absorbs acetylcholine through dietary sources. People ingest precursors to acetylcholine in foods like egg yolks, and the body converts them into a usable form of this neurotransmitter. Many cells have receptors for acetylcholine, and the body has a steady demand for it. Two common functions involving this molecule are control of muscle movement and memory formation, illustrating its broad scope of action in terms of how and where it acts in the body.
Patients with this deficiency can develop issues like trouble forming and retrieving memories as well as uncontrolled muscle movements and tremors. As adults age, they tend to produce less acetylcholine, and this leads to issues like age-associated memory loss. When the levels drop lower than normal for a patient's age, she has an acetylcholine deficiency and could be at risk of complications, especially if it becomes chronic and the patient's muscles start to atrophy as a result of not being used enough. Complications of dementia can also become permanent, as the patient's brain will lose functionality even if acetylcholine levels return to normal.
One potential cause is dietary. Patients who do not eat a balanced diet may develop deficiencies in a number of necessary nutrients, including those needed to build acetylcholine. This can be a particular concern with patients who rely on caregivers for nutrition, as they cannot seek out alternative nutrition sources if they feel like they are not eating enough of the right foods. Patients relying on intravenous or parenteral nutrition need special monitoring to check for signs of acetylcholine deficiency and other issues.
Some diseases can also cause acetylcholine deficiency, including Alzheimer's disease and myasthenia gravis. The symptoms of these conditions reflect what happens when the body does not have enough of this neurotransmitter to function normally; patients develop muscle weakness, dementia, and disorganized thinking. Certain medications can also interact with levels of the neurotransmitter, leading to a temporary acetylcholine deficiency until a doctor changes the medication or adjusts the dosage to resolve the problem.