Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement and coordination in the body. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, as nerve cells in the brain break down and die. But medications and sometimes surgery can improve symptoms.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
The main signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Arms, legs and neck become stiff
- Limb movement slows
- Low blood pressure
- Posture becomes impaired and affects balance
- Speech becomes slurred, soft, faster, slower or monotone
- Tremors (shaking) happen in the hands, arm, face and jaw
There are no standard diagnostic tests to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. To effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition, a physician who specializes in movement disorders will conduct physical and neurological (nervous system) exams, review signs and symptoms and ask about family history. Some diagnostic procedures can be used to rule out other conditions:
Blood tests: Blood tests may be done to rule out other causes of symptoms.
Imagining tests: Tests such as an MRI, ultrasound of the brain and SCPECT and PET scans may be used to diagnosis Parkinson’s disease.
A physician may prescribe carbidopa-levodopa, a natural chemical that can convert to dopamine in the brain. If the medication improves symptoms, this response confirms a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown.
Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:
Age: People older than 50 are more at risk than young adults for developing the disease.
Chemical changes in the brain: Clumps of Lewy bodies (a protein in brain nerve cells) and the presence of a protein (alpha-synuclein) within Lewy bodies are indicators of Parkinson’s disease.
Family history: In rare cases, a genetic mutation is found that affects family members.
Gender: Men develop Parkinson’s disease more often than women.
Head injuries: People who suffered traumatic brain injury may develop Parkinson’s disease.
There is no known way to prevent Parkinson’s disease.
Prognosis for life expectancy of those who receive treatment for Parkinson’s is almost the same as the general population.
Treatment and Recovery
Parkinson’s disease treatment aims to improve symptoms and reduce complications. Treatments can include medication, therapy and surgical implants.
Medications can be prescribed for Parkinson’s disease symptoms to:
- Control tremors
- Control involuntary movements
- Improve mobility
- Reduce fatigue
- Treat nausea
Certain therapies including: massage, acupuncture, exercise, meditation, and art/music/pet therapy can treat symptoms to:
- Reduce muscle tension
- Reduce pain
- Improve balance and strength
One therapy, a surgical implant, can improve disabling Parkinson’s disease symptoms. During this procedure, called deep brain stimulation (DBS), a physician implants electrodes into the brain that connect to a generator implanted in the chest near the collarbone. DBS sends electrical pulses to the brain to control involuntary movements of the body. DBS is used most often when medication cannot control symptoms or the Parkinson’s is in an advanced stage. It does not stop the progression of the disease.
Parkinson’s disease has a wide range of related complications. Many of these complications can be treated or better managed. Complications include:
- Cognitive Problems. Some people with Parkinson’s disease experience cognitive problems, such as dementia or other difficulties with thinking. This is more typical in later stages of Parkinson’s disease, and it is often unresponsive to medications.
- Depression and emotional changes. Many people with the disease experience depression or depression related symptoms, especially early on in the disease. Treatment for depression can also help the person to better navigate the challenges of this disease. People may also experience other emotional changes, such as anxiety, fear, grief, and lack of motivation. A healthcare professional may discuss treatment options for mental health related issues.
- Problems with swallowing. Issues with swallowing tend to develop as the disease progresses. Drooling can be an issue, as saliva can build up in the mouth due to difficulties in swallowing.
- Problems with chewing and eating. In the later stages of the disease, muscles in the mouth are affected, making chewing difficult. This can lead to choking and malnutrition.
- Sleep disturbance. Often, people with Parkinson’s struggle with falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and falling asleep in the middle of the day. Some patients may also suffer with rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which involves acting out dreams during sleep. Medications can help treat sleep disturbances.
- Bladder issues. Parkinson’s disease may cause a loss of control in urinating, or cause difficulties in urinating.
- Constipation. Often people with Parkinson’s struggle with constipation due to a slower digestive system.
- Changes in smell. Some people have difficulties smelling certain odors, or distinguishing between odors.
- Fatigue. Low energy is a common symptom of people with Parkinson’s and is usually experienced later in the day.
- Pain. Sometimes pain is experienced throughout the body, or in a specific region of the body.
- Blood pressure issues. Dizziness or lightheadedness can be experienced upon standing, due to a sudden drop in blood pressure (orthostatic hypertension).
- Sexual dysfunction. A decrease in sexual desire or performance is experienced by some people with Parkinson’s.
Parkinson-plus syndromes are degenerative conditions in which patients have some clinical features of Parkinson’s, but symptoms are caused by brain cell loss and cell degeneration in other parts of the nervous system.
Next Steps with MyChart
Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.