Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects your movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. But while tremor may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson's disease, the disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement.
In early stages of Parkinson's disease, your face may show little or no expression, or your arms may not swing when you walk. Your speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson's disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time.
Although Parkinson's disease can't be cured, medications may markedly improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to regulate certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.
Parkinson's disease symptoms and signs may vary from person to person. Early signs may be mild and may go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides. Parkinson's signs and symptoms may include:
Medications typically markedly reduce many of these symptoms. These medications increase or substitute for a specific signaling chemical (neurotransmitter) in your brain: dopamine. People with Parkinson's disease have low brain dopamine concentrations.
When to see a doctor
The cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including:
In summary, there is much work to be done to identify the factors causing Parkinson's disease.
Many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease, including:
Risk factors for Parkinson's disease include:
Parkinson's disease is often accompanied by these additional problems, which are variably treatable:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to first see your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in nervous system disorders (neurologist).
Because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to arrive well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For Parkinson's disease, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
No tests exist to diagnose Parkinson's disease. Your doctor will diagnose Parkinson's disease based on your medical history, a review of your signs and symptoms, and a neurological and physical examination. Your doctor sometimes may order tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
In addition to your examination, your doctor may give you carbidopa-levodopa, the most effective Parkinson's disease medication. Significant improvement with this medication often will confirm your diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. You must be given a sufficient dose to show the benefit, as low doses for a day or two aren't reliable.
Treatments and drugs
Parkinson's disease can't be cured, but medications can help control your symptoms, often dramatically. In some later cases, surgery may be advised. Your doctor also may recommend lifestyle changes, especially ongoing aerobic exercise. In some cases physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching also is important.
You may have significant improvement of your symptoms after beginning Parkinson's disease treatment. Over time, however, the benefits of drugs frequently diminish or become less consistent, although symptoms usually can continue to be fairly well controlled.
Your doctor may prescribe medications, which may include:
Deep brain stimulation
Deep brain stimulation involves implanting an electrode deep within your brain. The amount of stimulation delivered by the electrode is controlled by a pacemaker-like device placed under the skin in ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you've received a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, you'll need to work closely with your doctor to find a treatment plan that offers you the greatest relief from symptoms with the fewest side effects. Certain lifestyle changes also may help make living with Parkinson's disease easier.
If you take a fiber supplement, be sure to introduce it gradually and drink plenty of fluids daily. Otherwise, your constipation may become worse. If you find that fiber helps your symptoms, use it on a regular basis for the best results.
Walking with care
Daily living activities
Some types of alternative medicine may help people with Parkinson's disease, including:
Coping and support
Living with any chronic illness can be difficult, and it's normal to feel angry, depressed or discouraged at times. Parkinson's disease presents special problems because it can cause chemical changes in your brain that make you feel anxious or depressed. And Parkinson's disease can be profoundly frustrating, as walking, talking and even eating become more difficult and time-consuming.
Although friends and family can be your best allies, the understanding of people who know what you're going through can be especially helpful. Support groups aren't for everyone. However, for many people with Parkinson's disease and their families, support groups can be a good resource for practical information and education about Parkinson's disease. Also, support groups offer a place for you to find people who are going through similar situations and can provide you with support.
To learn about support groups in your community, talk to your doctor, a Parkinson's disease social worker or a local public health nurse. Or contact the National Parkinson Foundation or the American Parkinson Disease Association.
You and your family also may benefit from talking to a mental health professional (psychologist) or social worker trained in working with people with chronic conditions.
Because the cause of Parkinson's is unknown, definitive ways to prevent the disease also remain a mystery. However, some research has shown that caffeine — which is found in coffee, tea and cola — may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Green tea also may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
Last Updated: 2012-05-11
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