Parkinson's Disease

  • Medical Author:

    Sietske N. Heyn is a medical writer with a PhD in neuroscience. Dr. Heyn's education includes a BS with honors from the University of Oregon, and a doctoral degree in neuroscience from the University of California at Davis. After completing postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco, and many years of working as a medical writer at the Stanford University Center for Down Syndrome Research, Dr. Heyn now runs her own medical writing business.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideParkinson's Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Stages, Treatment

Parkinson's Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Stages, Treatment

What is the treatment for Parkinson's disease?

There is currently no treatment to cure Parkinson's disease. Several therapies are available to delay the onset of motor symptoms and to ameliorate motor symptoms. All of these therapies are designed to increase the amount of dopamine in the brain either by replacing dopamine, mimicking dopamine, or prolonging the effect of dopamine by inhibiting its breakdown. Studies have shown that early therapy in the non-motor stage can delay the onset of motor symptoms, thereby extending quality of life.

The most effective therapy for Parkinson's disease is levodopa (Sinemet), which is converted to dopamine in the brain. However, because long-term treatment with levodopa can lead to unpleasant side effects (a shortened response to each dose, painful cramps, and involuntary movements), its use is often delayed until motor impairment is more severe. Levodopa is frequently prescribed together with carbidopa (Sinemet), which prevents levodopa from being broken down before it reaches the brain. Co-treatment with carbidopa allows for a lower levodopa dose, thereby reducing side effects.

In earlier stages of Parkinson's disease, substances that mimic the action of dopamine (dopamine agonists), and substances that reduce the breakdown of dopamine (monoamine oxidase type B (MAO-B) inhibitors) can be very efficacious in relieving motor symptoms. Unpleasant side effects of these preparations are quite common, including swelling caused by fluid accumulation in body tissues, drowsiness, constipation, dizziness, hallucinations, and nausea.

For some individuals with advanced, virtually unmanageable motor symptoms, surgery may be an option. In deep brain stimulation (DBS), the surgeon implants electrodes to stimulate areas of the brain involved in movement. In another type of surgery, specific areas in the brain that cause Parkinson's symptoms are destroyed.

An alternative approach that has been explored is the use of dopamine-producing cells derived from stem cells. While stem cell therapy has great potential, more research is required before such cells can become of therapeutic value in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

In addition to medication and surgery, general lifestyle changes (rest and exercise), physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy may be beneficial.

How can people learn to cope with Parkinson's disease?

Although Parkinson's disease progresses slowly, it will eventually affect every aspect of life - from social engagements, work, to basic routines. Accepting the gradual loss of independence can be difficult. Being well informed about the disease can reduce anxiety about what lies ahead. Many support groups offer valuable information for individuals with Parkinson's disease and their families on how to cope with the disorder. Local groups can provide emotional support as well as advice on where to find experienced doctors, therapists, and related information. It is also very important to stay in close contact with health care professionals to monitor the progression of the disease and to adjust therapies to maintain the highest quality of living.

Can Parkinson's disease be prevented?

Scientists currently believe that Parkinson's disease is triggered through a complex combination of genetic susceptibility and exposure to environmental factors such as toxins, illness, and trauma. Since the exact causes are not known, Parkinson's disease is at present not preventable.

What is the prognosis of Parkinson's disease?

The severity of Parkinson's disease symptoms vary greatly from individual to individual and it is not possible to predict how quickly the disorder will progress. Parkinson's disease itself is not a fatal disease, and the average life expectancy is similar to that of people without the disease. Secondary complications, such as pneumonia, falling-related injuries, and choking can lead to death. There are many treatment options that can reduce some of the symptoms and can prolong the quality of life of an individual with Parkinson's disease.

Medically reviewed by Joseph Carcione, DO; American board of Psychiatry and Neurology

REFERENCES:

Arenas, E. Towards stem cell replacement therapies for Parkinson's disease. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 2010; vol 396: pp 152-156.

Chen, J.C. Parkinson's Disease: Health-Related Quality of Life, Economic Cost, and Implications of Early Treatment American Journal of Managing Care, 2010; vol 16: pp S87-S93.

Fricker-Gates, R.A. and Gates, M.A. Stem cell-derived dopamine neurons for repair in Parkinson's disease. Regenerative Medicine, March 2010; vol 5(2): pp267-78.

Hauser, R.A., Early Pharmacologic Treatment in Parkinson's Disease. American Journal of Managing Care, 2010; vol 16: pp S100-S107.

Pahwa, R. and Lyons, K.E. diagnosis of Parkinson's disease: recommendations from diagnostic clinical guidelines. American Journal of Managing Care, 2010; vol 16: pp S194-S99.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/9/2016

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