What is Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes movement problems like shaking, slow movements, muscle stiffness, and loss of balance and coordination. The disease worsens over time and can eventually lead to memory loss, behavior and mental changes, tiredness, and sleep problems.
Parkinson’s disease can happen to anyone, but it’s more likely to happen to older people and men. The average age of onset is 55 years.
Why do people get Parkinson’s?
The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown. Some cases are hereditary and run in families, and some happen without a clear reason. But Parkinson’s happens because of changes in your brain.
Loss of brain chemicals
Parkinson’s is caused by nerve cell breakdown in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Cells in this area release dopamine and control movement by sending signals down your spinal cord to your muscles. As these cells die, your body makes less dopamine, and you start to have movement problems.
The brain also loses nerve endings that make norepinephrine, which controls blood pressure, heart rate, and many other things. The lack of norepinephrine causes tiredness, constipation, and sudden blood pressure drop when you change positions.
People with Parkinson’s also have irregular clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These clumps are called Lewy bodies and can lead to dementia: memory loss and difficulty thinking and making decisions. Some studies suggest that a gene change causes alpha-synuclein to form Lewy bodies, leading to cell breakdown and loss of dopamine. These gene changes can cause a rare inherited form of Parkinson’s.
Other studies suggest that air pollution, head injuries, and exposure to toxins like pesticides, herbicides, and Agent Orange might be risk factors. Overall, the cause isn’t clear, and it may even be a combination of factors that leads to Parkinson’s.
What is the best treatment for Parkinson’s disease?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatments that can improve symptoms. Medications are the main treatment, but other supportive and lifestyle therapies are often also used.
Your doctor will consider your symptoms and the stage of your disease. During the early stages, you might not need treatment as the symptoms are usually mild.
The main medication for Parkinson’s is an amino acid precursor to dopamine called levodopa. Your cells absorb this medication and turn it into dopamine. Since Parkinson’s causes a lack of dopamine, raising your dopamine levels can help ease your symptoms.
Levodopa is often combined with another medication called carbidopa, which stops levodopa from being converted into dopamine too early. This gets more dopamine to the brain and also helps prevent some side effects of levodopa like feeling sick and throwing up.
People with Parkinson’s often take levodopa for a long time. Years of the medication can lead to side effects like uncontrollable and jerky movements called dyskinesia and an “on-off” phenomenon. This is where you quickly switch from being able to move to immobility. The drug can also lose its effectiveness over time, and you might need higher doses.
Other common medications include:
- Dopamine agonists, which act as a dopamine substitute
- Monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors, used in the early stage to block an enzyme that breaks down dopamine
- Catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibitors, used in late-stage Parkinson’s to block enzymes that break down levodopa
- Duopa, a type of levodopa for severe off periods
Physical, speech, and occupational therapy are all helpful for Parkinson’s. Physical therapy helps stretch and strengthen muscles, ease muscle tightness and weakness, and help you gain flexibility. All of this helps with movement.
Speech therapy can help with speech and swallowing problems. Occupational therapy helps you learn how to adapt your daily tasks and self-care according to your abilities and promotes independence. An occupational therapist also makes sure your home is safe and adapted.
If Parkinson’s doesn’t respond to medications, your doctor might recommend deep brain stimulation surgery. During this procedure, a type of pacemaker is placed on your brain and stimulates areas affected by Parkinson’s.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, treatment can help ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life. You might not need medications in the early stages of the disease as symptoms are often mild, but your doctor will prescribe treatment based on your needs. If you think you have symptoms of Parkinson’s, talk to your doctor.
American Parkinson Disease Association: "What is Parkinson's Disease?"
JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE: "Parkinson's Disease Risk Factors and Causes."
Molecular Neurodegeneration: "Alpha-synuclein structure and Parkinson's disease – lessons and emerging principles."
National Health Service: "Parkinson's disease – Treatment."
National Institute of Health National Institute on Aging: "Parkinson's Disease."
Parkinson's Foundation: "Levodopa."
Zafar, S., Yaddanapudi, S. StatPearls, "Parkinson Disease," StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
Top What Is Most Effective Treatment for Parkinson's Related Articles
benztropineBenztropine is a medication used as an adjunct therapy for the treatment of all forms of Parkinson’s disease. Common side effects of benztropine include rapid heart rate (tachycardia), confusion, disorientation, depression, memory impairment, nervousness, visual hallucinations, worsening of psychotic symptoms, toxic psychosis, lethargy, numbness of fingers, absence of sweating (anhidrosis), high body temperature (hyperthermia), and others. Safety of use in pregnancy is not established, avoid use. Anticholinergic medications may suppress lactation and it is not known if it is excreted in breast milk, avoid use.
bromocriptineBromocriptine is a medication used to treat hyperprolactinemia, a condition with high blood levels of the hormone prolactin, and associated disorders. It is also used to treat Parkinson’s disease, excessive growth or gigantism (acromegaly), and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Common side effects of Cycloset include nausea, headache, dizziness, nasal inflammation (rhinitis), weakness (asthenia), fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion (dyspepsia), and others. Common side effects of Parlodel include nausea, headache, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and discomfort, loss of appetite (anorexia), indigestion (dyspepsia), gastrointestinal bleeding, and others. Cycloset must be used in pregnancy only if clearly needed. The safety of Parlodel use in pregnancy is not established. Bromocriptine should not be used in nursing mothers.
carbidopaCarbidopa is a medication always used in combination with levodopa used to treat Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative movement disorder. Common side effects with levodopa or carbidopa/levodopa combination include uncontrolled movements, impairment of voluntary movement control and slowness of movement, delusions, paranoid ideation, hallucinations, confusion, agitation, drowsiness (somnolence), dream abnormalities, nightmares, insomnia, and others.
carbidopa/levodopaCarbidopa/levodopa is a combination medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease in adults. Common side effects of carbidopa/levodopa include movement disorders (dyskinesia), nausea, vomiting, indigestion (dyspepsia), diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite (anorexia), duodenal ulcer, gastrointestinal bleeding, dry mouth (xerostomia), taste disorder (dysgeusia), dark saliva, palpitations, cardiac irregularities, low blood pressure (hypotension), and others.
How Do People Get Parkinson’s?Parkinson's disease is a chronic age-related brain condition of the nervous system, causing parts of your brain to degenerate. People get Parkinson's due to genetic and environmental factors, age, gender, and other things.
How Do You Get Parkinson's Disease?Parkinson's disease results from a lack of dopamine production in the brain, affecting a person's physical and mental abilities. Learn what the causes and symptoms are of Parkinson's and how to best treat it.
Is Dystonia a Form of Parkinson's?Dystonia can be one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a long-term neurological movement disorder with various symptoms ranging from slowness of movement (bradykinesia), rigidity of muscles, tremor, loss of balance, memory impairment, personality changes and others.
Parkinson's DiseaseParkinson's disease is a slowly progressive neurological disease characterized by a fixed inexpressive face, a tremor at rest, slowing of voluntary movements, a gait with short accelerating steps, peculiar posture and muscle weakness, caused by degeneration of an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, and by low production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most patients are over 50, but at least 10 percent are under 40.
Parkinson's Disease: Eating RightEating a well-balanced and nutritional diet is very beneficial to people with Parkinson's disease. With a proper diet, our bodies work more efficiently and it is especially helpful because Parkinson's disease medications will work properly.
Parkinson's SlideshowDiscover the symptoms, causes, stages, and treatment options for Parkinson's disease. Learn more about the stages of Parkinson's disease such as tremors and loss of muscle control.
Parkinson's QuizParkinson's disease is common among neurodegenerative disorders. Do you know how it works? The causes? The symptoms? Take the Parkinson’s Disease Quiz to Test your knowledge of Parkinson's.
pramipexolePramipexole is a medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome in adults. Pramipexole relieves the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and restless legs syndrome, but the drug cannot cure these conditions. Common side effects of pramipexole include dizziness, drowsiness (somnolence), headache, insomnia, weakness (asthenia), constipation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite (anorexia), indigestion (dyspepsia), upper abdominal pain, abdominal distress, swallowing difficulty (dysphagia), dry mouth (xerostomia), increased appetite, abnormality in thinking, and others.
safinamideSafinamide is a medication used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD), a movement disorder caused by the degeneration of nerve cells (neurons) in dopamine-producing regions of the brain. Common side effects of safinamide include uncontrolled involuntary muscle movements and spasms (dyskinesia), falling, insomnia, anxiety, nausea, indigestion (dyspepsia), increase in liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), new onset or exacerbation of high blood pressure (hypertension), drop in blood pressure when standing from sitting or lying down (orthostatic hypotension), cough, impulse control disorder, sudden onset of sleep, headache, and others.
selegilineSelegiline is a medication used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder caused by the degeneration of nerve cells (neurons) in certain regions of the brain. Common side effects of selegiline include nausea, vomiting, swallowing difficulties (dysphagia), indigestion (dyspepsia), abdominal pain, gas (flatulence), constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth (xerostomia), dizziness, headache, involuntary uncontrolled movements (dyskinesia), tremor, impairment of coordination/balance/speech (ataxia), suicidal thoughts and behavior, insomnia, hallucination, psychotic-like behavior, and others.
What Are 10 Possible Causes of Parkinson's Disease?Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition that mainly affects your body's movement. The 10 possible causes of Parkinson's disease include genetics, chemical exposure, where you live, and other factors.
What Are the 5 Signs of Parkinson's Disease?Parkinson's disease is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder that leads to a gradual decline of your motor functions. The 5 signs of Parkinson's include tremors, stiffness, balance problems, trouble speaking, and small handwriting.
What Are the 5 Stages of Parkinson’s Disease?Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disease that affects movement. Learn about symptoms in each of the 5 stages.