Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options
Parkinson’s Disease is a common movement disorder that currently affects about one million Americans, with 90,000 new diagnoses each year. While the incidence of Parkinson’s Disease increases with age, about four percent of people with Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed before age 50. Men are one and a half times more likely to be diagnosed.
What is Parkinson’s Disease and what causes it?
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological condition that progresses slowly and worsens with age. It is caused by the loss of certain brain cells that produce a substance called dopamine.
Dopamine is essential for smooth and coordinated muscle movement throughout the body, in addition to other functions. Understanding why the dopamine cells degenerate is the subject of ongoing research worldwide and may hold the key to a cure for the disease.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
The cardinal movement-related (motor) symptoms of Parkinson’s include:
- tremor or trembling of the arms, jaw, legs, or face
- stiffness or rigidity of the limbs and torso
- slow movement, also known as bradykinesia
- impaired balance and gait dysfunction
Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include:
- sleep difficulty
- memory problems
- soft speech
- vivid dreams and dream enactment
The symptoms and their severity and progression may vary from person to person. Because different movement disorders can have the same symptoms, careful diagnosis is vital for proper treatment.
Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
Like other movement disorders, medications are usually the preferred treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. During early stages of the condition, there are different oral medications that can be very effective in reducing the bothersome symptoms.
Like any medication, there can be side effects, and all medications vary in effectiveness. That is why it is critical that you see a neurologist who can monitor effectiveness, manage side effects, and determine when a medication is no longer working as it should.
Within about 10 years, many patients begin to develop changes in their symptoms, with more abnormal, involuntary movements, called dyskinesias. Progression of the disease leads to shorter-lasting benefit of medication, and then more frequent dosing is needed.
At this point, alternative treatments can be considered. Your neurologist can refer you to our multidisciplinary team to determine if you are a candidate for one of these treatments. When surgical procedures are determined to be the ideal treatment, our team uses the latest technologies to provide the best, safest option for you.
Deep brain stimulation
One treatment option for Parkinson’s Disease is deep brain stimulation (DBS). This procedure offers patients a proven option that reduces the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, as well as other conditions including dystonia and tremor. DBS uses electrodes – or wires – surgically implanted in the brain, and connected to a pacemaker-like battery implanted in the chest. The battery is programmed in the office to deliver small amounts of electricity to correct abnormal firing in the targeted brain region.
Another treatment option for Parkinson’s Disease is Duopa therapy. This is a gel infusion of the same medication people take orally, but is delivered directly into the intestine through a surgically inserted tube, which is connected to an external pump that contains medication.
A neurosurgical technology known as focused ultrasound is another treatment for Parkinson’s Disease. This technology uses focused beams of ultrasound energy to target and heat specific circuits of the brain. First, low energy is delivered to disrupt abnormal brain activity while an MRI monitors the temperature of the target location. When the tremor is reduced or eliminated, the temperature is then increased so that the target can be ablated, disrupting the circuit responsible for the tremor.
Whichever stage of Parkinson’s Disease you are in, our team is here to help you. Our program offers a number of treatment options that complement our medical and surgical treatments, including nutrition, social work, nursing, and genetic counseling.
Learn more about our Movement Disorders Program and treatment options for Parkinson’s Disease.
About the Author:
Umer Akbar, MD
Dr. Umer Akbar is a neurologist and director of the Movement Disorders Program at Rhode Island Hospital, part of the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute.
Movement Disorders Program at Rhode Island Hospital
Learn more about the Movement Disorders and Deep Brain Stimulation programs of the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute.
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