Parkinson’s disease can be a bewildering diagnosis, but it can be reassuring to learn more about its causes and the treatment available.
As part of our Wellness Wednesdays campaign, we share a blog every Wednesday from Healthily – our preferred health partner – to give you tips, advice and guidance on a wide variety of health conditions. This blog gives an overview of Parkinson’s disease as well as links to articles containing more detailed information about diagnosis, treatment and living with the disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively more damaged over many years (a progressive neurological condition).
The 3 main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are related to movement:
- involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body – known as tremor
- muscle stiffness that can make everyday tasks such as getting out of a chair very difficult – this is known as rigidity
- physical movements become very slow – known as bradykinesia.
A person with Parkinson’s disease can also experience a wide range of symptoms unrelated to movement (non-motor symptoms) such as:
- daytime sleepiness
- dysphagia (difficulties swallowing)
- Read more about the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Treating Parkinson’s disease
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, though a medication called levodopa has proved effective in relieving symptoms.
Unfortunately though, after around 3-5 years of use, the effectiveness of levodopa is reduced.
After this time people can experience a sudden return of symptoms (this is known as an ‘off episode’) as well an involuntary jerking of their muscles (dyskinesias). At this point additional medication is usually required.
There are also a range of non-pharmaceutical treatments that can be used to manage symptoms, such as speech and language therapy and physiotherapy.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in the amount of a chemical called dopamine in the brain.
Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body and this reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Exactly what causes the loss of nerve cells is unclear. Most experts think that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible.
Who’s affected by Parkinson’s?
The average age for the symptoms to start is around 60; although around 1 in 20 cases first develop in people aged under 50.
Men are 1.5 times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.
The ethnic group most likely to develop Parkinson’s disease is white people. Rates are significantly lower in black and Asian people.
Parkinson’s disease is not fatal but the condition can place great strain on the body.
Some people respond well to treatments and only experience mild to moderate disability, while others experience severe disability.
Due to the advancements in treatment, people with Parkinson’s disease now often have a normal or near-normal life expectancy.
Your treatment plan
You may not need any treatment during the early stages of Parkinson’s disease as symptoms are usually mild. However, you may need regular appointments with your specialist so that your condition can be monitored.
At the moment, there’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but numerous treatments are available to help control your symptoms and maintain your quality of life. These may be supportive therapies that help you cope with everyday life or medication to control your symptoms.
For some people with a particular pattern of symptoms, surgery may be an option. You should agree on a care plan with your healthcare professionals and your family or carers, and this should be reviewed regularly. The care plan should address:
- What are your currents needs and how can these be met;
- What are likely to be your needs in the future;
- Is there anything that can be done to make your day to day life easier.
Your care team
As Parkinson’s disease can often be a very complex condition to treat, the treatment you receive will be provided by a team of different professionals working together. This is known as a multi-disciplinary team or MDT. Members of your care team may include:
- a neurologist (a specialist in treating conditions that affect the nervous system)
- a physiotherapist (helps people improve their co-ordination and range of movement)
- a speech and language therapist
- an occupational therapist (helps people improve the skills they need for daily activities, such as washing or dressing)
- an incontinence adviser
- a psychologist
- a social worker
- a dietician
- a specialist neurology nurse (who will usually be your first point of contact with the rest of the team).
Medication for Parkinson’s
Medicines may be used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Not all medicines are useful for everyone and the short- and long-term effects of each are different. The 3 main types of medication commonly used are levodopa, dopamine agonists and monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors. Most people with Parkinson’s disease will eventually need to have levodopa, which may be taken at the same time as other medicines to boost its effects. Each medicine is prescribed to suit the individual needs of the person with Parkinson’s disease. Things that can influence which medicine is prescribed include:
- your age
- the severity of your symptoms
- how well you respond to treatment
- whether you experience any side effects
When people don’t take their medication on time, or stop taking it completely, they can become very ill. If you have to go into the hospital, tell the hospital staff about your medication. If you have a stomach bug or are being sick, tell your doctor as this may affect the levels of medicine in your body. Your specialist can explain your medication options and discuss which may be best for you. Regular reviews will be required as the disease progresses and your needs change.
This is a brief introduction to the treatment available for Parkinson’s disease. You can find more information about the different types of treatment on the Healthily website here.
You can read the full article in the Healthily Health Library where it was originally published.
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