Parkinsonís disease is a movement disorder, a neurological condition that affects cells in the middle of the brain. The affected cells produce dopamine, a kind of chemical messenger. Dopamine signals the body to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity. As the brain cells are destroyed, there is less and less dopamine available. Nerve cells begin to fire out of control, which causes the person with Parkinsonís to lose control of movement.
The most common signs are:
- Tremor in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
- Stiffness in the arms and legs
- Slow movement, or bradykinesia
- Problems with balance or gait
Nobody has identified a specific cause of Parkinsonís. But many researchers believe that some people are genetically more likely to develop Parkinsonís if theyíve been exposed to certain environmental toxins. Many Parkinsonís researchers is that weíre probably still a long way from a cure, but that itís reasonable to expect that more effective treatments will be developed until a cure is found.
The average age at onset is 55, but Parkinsonís can actually occur at any age. Researchers have not identified a way to predict how Parkinsonís will affect each individual. Some people have mild cases and others have quite severe ones. But for almost everyone, the disease does generally, gradually get worse. Thereís no known cure, but there are treatments. Most people take medication for Parkinsonís. When medications fail to provide symptom relief, there are surgical procedures that can be very successful.
Common Parkinsonís treatments
The most common drug for Parkinsonís is levodopa. It works best for bradykinesia (slow movement) and stiffness. Doctors often wait to prescribe levodopa until the symptoms become more pronounced, mainly because the drug doesnít work for an unlimited period of time. It provides symptom relief, but it doesnít stop cell damage.
Side effects of levodopa include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, involuntary movements and restlessness. An uncommon side effect is confusion. Some of the side effects can be decreased by combining other medications with the levodopa.
Gradually, levodopa becomes effective for shorter time periods. Additionally, people who have been on the drug for an extended period of time may notice increased twitching, nodding and jerking. Many people have to work closely with their doctors to determine a balance between the benefits and the side effects.
There are other medications for Parkinsonís as well. Some are combined with levodopa to increase effectiveness or reduce side effects. Many of these drugs are effective about 30 percent of people. And many can cause such side effects as hallucinations, blurred vision, nausea and confusion.
Surgical treatment for Parkinsonís is sometimes possible when medications are no longer effective. One of the newest procedures is called deep brain stimulation. A neurosurgeon implants a pacemaker in the chest wall, and patients control their own tremors by touching a magnet.
Not all movement disorders are Parkinsonís
Parkinsonís disease is the most common of all movement disorders, but itís important to know that not all movement disorders are Parkinsonís. Many people assume thatís what they have as soon as they notice a bit of shaking. If youíre noticing signs that seem like Parkinsonís, be sure to see your doctor. Prognosis and treatment differ depending upon the condition you have, so itís important to get the right diagnosis.
Living your life with Parkinsonís
When you have Parkinsonís, your life is like one big management issue. How to manage your symptoms, how to manage your medication, how to keep going when depression hits, how to manage stress. What should you do to keep yourself in the best shape possible to manage your condition?
Find a way to relieve stress. Having Parkinsonís is stressful. Have stress relief become part of your daily routine. This can mean sitting quietly for a period of time every day, praying, doing some form of meditation, listening to soothing music, etc. When you practice some kind of stress reliever every day, youíll be able to keep that calm feeling with you even when youíre doing something else.
Try to get exercise every day. This can strengthen your muscles and improve your balance. A physical therapist can help you develop a good exercise program for you.
Connect with others who have Parkinsonís. There are so many ups and downs when you have Parkinsonís. And so many different ways to deal with your medications, your side effects and your symptoms. If youíre part of a support group, you can learn from the experiences of others. And donít forget that sharing your own experiences will help others in turn. Being part of a Parkinsonís group can also help you combat depression, which is not uncommon for Parkinsonís patients.
The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke; The Parkinsonís Action Network; The Parkinsonís Disease Foundation.