Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system. It is a progressive disease that develops gradually and influences the ability to control movements. Many cases begin with minor signs and symptoms, such as minor tremors of the hand, limited facial expressions, soft or slurred speech, or decreased arm and leg movement while walking, but the severity of the disease and symptoms increases over time. Tremor is one of the most common signs of Parkinson’s disease, but others include stiffness and movement slowing. Parkinson’s disease treatment is based on a thorough understanding of each patient’s unique condition and medical history.
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Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Disease
Factors that can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Heredity. The risk for Parkinson’s disease can increase if another family member or multiple family members suffer from the disease.
- Age. Parkinson’s disease tends to appear later in life and is most common in those over 60 years of age. While you are not immune from Parkinson’s disease at a younger age, the risk increases as you get older.
- Sex. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women.
- Exposure to toxins. Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides and herbicides, may also increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Complications of Parkinson’s disease
Complications associated with Parkinson’s disease range greatly from individual to individual and can be mild to severe. Some possible complications are:
- Problems thinking. A person suffering from Parkinson’s disease may experience difficulties thinking or show signs of dementia, especially during the later stages. Unfortunately, medications used to alleviate many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are not as effective when it comes to problems thinking.
- Difficulty swallowing. As the condition progresses, patients may develop difficulties swallowing and eating. This is often due to saliva accumulation.
- Emotional changes. Many individuals who suffer from Parkinson’s disease also experience emotional changes, including depression.
- Sleep disorders. Difficulty sleeping is a common complication associated with Parkinson’s disease. Individuals may wake up in the middle of the night, fall asleep during the day, act out their dreams, or suffer from eye movement disorders while sleeping. Medications tend to be fairly effective at counteracting these complications.
- Bladder problems. Parkinson’s disease may cause bladder problems, which can lead to difficulty urinating or complete loss of urine control.
- Blood pressure changes. Those suffering from Parkinson’s disease can experience sudden drops in blood pressure, known as orthostatic hypotension.
- Constipation. The digestive system can slow down in patients suffering from this disease and they may develop constipation as a result.
- Fatigue. Energy loss and fatigue are common in Parkinson’s disease.
- Pain. Pain is also a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease and can occur either in a specific body part or throughout the entire body.
- Decreased sense of smell. A sense of smell can decrease partially or completely. A patient may also have difficulty identifying a smell or identifying differences between smells.
Treatment of Parkinson’s disease
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are medications that can be used to control the symptoms. Additionally, surgery can be performed in severe cases.
Medications for Parkinson’s Disease
Difficulties controlling movements and excessive tremor can be managed with medications that increase levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. Patients with Parkinson’s disease often have low dopamine levels, which is associated with impaired movement control. Many medications work by increasing levels of dopamine in these individuals.
While medications can significantly improve Parkinson’s disease symptoms, their effectiveness may decrease over time. However, most symptoms can usually be well-controlled.
One of the most effective medications used for Parkinson’s disease is Carbidopa-Levodopa. The substances in this medication are converted to dopamine after they enter the brain. Carbidopa-Levodopa is typically taken orally. Side effects include nausea, lightheadedness, and unwanted, involuntary movements.
Carbidopa-Levodopa can also be infused with a gel and administered into the body via a tube. This medication is also called duopa and is most commonly used with more advanced Parkinson’s cases. The placement of the tube requires a minor surgical procedure.
Other medications include:
- Dopamine agonists. These medications do not change into dopamine but mimic its effects in the brain. They are not as effective as Carbidopa-Levodopa, but they do last longer and can be used in combination with it.
- MAO-B inhibitors. Eldepryl, Zelapar, and Azilect are all types of MAO-B inhibitors. They help prevent the breakdown of dopamine in the brain. They do this by inhibiting an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which is in charge of breaking down dopamine. Side effects of these medications include nausea and insomnia. MAO-B inhibitors can be combined with Carbidopa-Levodopa, but this can result in hallucinations.
- Anticholinergics. These medications are specifically used to help control the tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease. There are several types, including benztropine or trihexyphenidyl. Side effects can include impaired memory, hallucinations, constipation, impaired urination, and dry mouth.
- Amantadine. Amantadine is used to provide short-term relief of early-stage symptoms. It can be given in combination with Carbidopa-Levodopa to control the unwanted movements that levodopa can produce. Some side effects include ankle swelling and hallucinations.
Surgery for Parkinson’s Disease
Another treatment for Parkinson’s disease is surgery. While surgical procedures are typically used for more severe cases, they can decrease many of the symptoms.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a common type of surgery for those with Parkinson’s disease. Electrodes are placed on the brain and connected to a stimulator that is typically implanted in the chest. The stimulator sends electrical pulses to the brain and reduces symptoms of the disease.
Risks of this surgery include brain hemorrhage and infection. Patients can also experience problems with the stimulator and some parts of the system may need to be repaired.
DBS is often performed on people who suffer from advanced Parkinson’s disease when medications are less effective. Apart from tremors, DBS does not typically help to reduce symptoms that no longer respond to Levodopa therapy and does not stop the disease from progressing.
Home Remedies for Parkinson’s Disease
Those who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease need to work closely with an expert to adjust treatment to their unique condition. A physician will often recommend making lifestyle changes that can help to manage the disease. This can include:
- Eating a balanced diet. Some foods have been shown to help reduce symptoms, such as those rich in fiber. The diet should also include nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and high water intake. It has also been suggested that caffeine, tea, and cola help to reduce the development of Parkinson’s disease.
- Exercise. Aerobic exercise is commonly recommended. Physical therapy is also a crucial part of the treatment process. Exercise can increase flexibility, balance, and muscular strength. Additionally, it may improve well-being and is known to reduce depression.
While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are many treatments that can be used to reduce symptoms. A patient that suffers from this disease should consult their medical specialist and work with them closely to determine a unique course of treatment that works best for them.