Some Parkinson’s Treatment Options
Parkinson’s disease has no cure, but there are treatment options to control your symptoms and improve your quality of life which include:
- Medication. Levodopa and other medications, which are trying to boost dopamine . There are number of those medications which can be used alone or in combination. Although many of those medications can help you significantly control your motor symptoms , you might also experience side effects and diminished efficacy over time.
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapy are usually part of your treatment plan and can improve your balance, mobility, ability to do daily tasks, and speech.
- Deep brain stimulation is a surgery performed by a neurosurgeon, and in indicated patients can help with motor symptoms, though non-motor symptoms, such as falls, constipation, low blood pressure and incontinence do not improve.
- Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that may help sufferers regain some of their balance and strength, as well as decrease the risk of falling. Dance, such as a Zumba, may also help, as can using a stationary bicycle and rock steady boxing.
Many treatment options for Parkinson’s are most effective when used in conjunction with others such as taking medication and doing physical therapy.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease
A substance called dopamine acts as a messenger between two brain areas – the substantia nigra and the corpus striatum – to produce smooth, controlled movements. Most of the movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by a lack of dopamine due to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra. When the amount of dopamine is too low, communication between the substantia nigra and corpus striatum becomes ineffective, and movement becomes impaired the greater the loss of dopamine, the worse the movement-related symptoms. Other cells in the brain also degenerate to some degree and may contribute to non-movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Although it is well known that lack of dopamine causes the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it is not clear why the dopamine-producing brain cells deteriorate.
- Genetic and pathological studies have revealed that various dysfunctional cellular processes, inflammation, and stress can all contribute to cell damage.
- In addition, abnormal clumps called Lewy bodies, which contain the protein alpha-synuclein, are found in many brain cells of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. The function of these clumps in regards to Parkinson’s disease is not understood.
In general, scientists suspect that dopamine loss is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Gut Health Should Be Included In Diagnosis And Therapy
In a study conducted at the Helsinki University Clinic and published in the Journal of Parkinson Disease, the respective researchers examined the extent to which the intestine could be involved in the development of Parkinsons disease. They concluded that if the intestines were taken into account in Parkinsons diagnosis and therapy, the disease could be recognized more quickly and its progression slowed.
The studys lead author, Dr Filip Scheperjans, states that some people suffer from gastrointestinal upset for years before experiencing typical Parkinsons symptoms, such as hand tremors.
However, if the disease is diagnosed when these tremors appear, many neurons will have died, making therapy much more difficult. For this reason, one of the goals of Parkinsons research is to discover new ways to detect the disease as early as possible, and the gut is clearly the center of attention.
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How Is Parkinsons Disease Diagnosed
There are no blood tests or imaging tests used to diagnose Parkinsons disease. Diagnosis is based upon a person’s signs and symptoms, medical history, and physical and neurologic examination.
Two of the three primary symptoms must be present to make the diagnosis, with one of the symptoms being slow movement.
Other characteristics of symptoms that support the diagnosis of Parkinsons disease include:
- Symptoms began on one side of the body
- Tremors occur when the person’s limb is resting
- Symptoms can be controlled with Parkinsons disease medications
- If the diagnosis of Parkinsons disease is uncertain, a medication challenge test may be recommended
- A medication commonly used to treat Parkinsons symptoms is given for at least two months
- If the person’s symptoms improve, a diagnosis of Parkinsons disease is likely
- People with Parkinsons disease-like symptoms caused by other diseases usually do not improve with medication
Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging may be used to rule out other possible diagnoses.
Dopamine transporter single-photon emission computed tomography imaging is a brain imaging test that can diagnose a condition called essential tremor that may cause similar symptoms to Parkinsons disease.
What Are The Later Secondary Signs And Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease
While the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are movement-related, progressive loss of muscle control and continued damage to the brain can lead to secondary symptoms. These secondary symptoms vary in severity, and not everyone with Parkinson’s will experience all of them, and may include:
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Stooping Or Hunching Over
Are you not standing up as straight as you used to? If you or your family or friends notice that you seem to be stooping, leaning or slouching when you stand, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s disease .
What is normal?If you have pain from an injury or if you are sick, it might cause you to stand crookedly. Also, a problem with your bones can make you hunch over.
The Substantia Nigra And Movement
The reason that Parkinsons causes movement symptoms is that the substantia nigra makes up part of the circuitry, called the basal ganglia, that the brain uses to turn thought about movement into action.
The structures of the basal ganglia.
The substantia nigra is the master regulator of the circuit, it mainly communicates using the chemical dopamine, but other chemical transmitters are also used to communicate between other areas of the basal ganglia.
The balance of signals being sent between these structures allows us to control movement. But as Parkinsons progresses, and the dopamine-producing brain cells in the substantia nigra are lost, movement symptoms appear. Without enough dopamine, it becomes harder to start and maintain movements, which leads to symptoms such as slowness of movement, rigidity and freezing. And an imbalance of signals in the basal ganglia means people with Parkinsons can experience what is known as a resting tremor.
But while this is the description of Parkinsons you may find in most textbooks, it is now recognised that changes are not limited to the substantia nigra and basal ganglia.
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So What Do We Know So Far
The substantia nigra is an area of the mid brain located at the top of the spinal cord, which has been the focus of much work into how Parkinsons affects the brain.
There are a right and a left substantia nigra, and often one side is affected before the other. Because of this, people with Parkinsons often experience symptoms primarily on one side of their body, particularly in the early stages. Indeed, this common feature of the condition often helps to distinguish Parkinsons from other similar conditions.
When it comes to confirming a diagnosis, it is the substantia nigra where pathologists look for changes at the end of life in brain tissue that has been donated to research. And the loss of the dopamine-producing cells in this area of the brain, accompanied by the presence of clumps of alpha-synuclein protein , has been the hallmark of Parkinsons for decades.
You can read more about the alpha-synuclein protein, and how it plays a role in the spread of Parkinsons, in a previous blog post:
What Causes Parkinson Disease
Parkinson disease arises from decreased dopamine production in the brain. The absence of dopamine makes it hard for the brain to coordinate muscle movements. Low dopamine also contributes to mood and cognitive problems later in the course of the disease. Experts don’t know what triggers the development of Parkinson disease most of the time. Early onset Parkinson disease is often inherited and is the result of certain gene defects.
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Beyond The Substantia Nigra
In Parkinsons, other areas of the brain beyond the substantia nigra are involved as the condition progresses. Changes in higher brain areas are linked to non-motor symptoms that can affect people with Parkinsons later on in the condition, and often have a significant impact on quality of life.
For instance, symptoms that affect memory and thinking can be linked to the presence of Lewy bodies in the largest area of the brain the cerebral cortex as well as the limbic system. The limbic system is also believed to be involved in symptoms involving mood and pain, and similar changes in the inferior temporal gyrus, an area of the brain involved in processing what we see, are thought to be the reason for hallucinations.
But research into the spread of Parkinsons through these areas, and how we can stop it , is just one side of the story. There is also ongoing research into where Parkinsons starts, and the effects it is having before it reaches these areas.
The presence of non-motor symptoms many months and maybe even years before the physical symptoms, such as tremor and slowness of movement, points towards the presence of other changes in the body long before the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra. These early symptoms could even help researchers predict those who will go on to be diagnosed with Parkinsons, which would help in the development of new and better treatments.
Leaky Gut Flora Disorders And Inflammation
As Dr Scheperjans points out, since alpha-synuclein deposits can also be found in the nervous system of the digestive system, concrete research must now be conducted to determine whether these deposits are actually identical to those in the brain.
Excessive permeability of the intestinal mucosa appears to trigger alpha-synuclein deposits in the intestine. Therefore, it must now be verified whether Parkinsons patients actually have a leaky gut syndrome.
Until now, the so-called immunohistochemistry has been used as a method to locate alpha-synuclein deposits, although with inconsistent results, so it is necessary to develop new methods to achieve more precise results.
Large clinical studies with Parkinsons patients are required to fully investigate the mechanisms that could be behind the influence of the gut in the development of Parkinsons disease. The composition of the intestinal flora of each patient should be examined before and after a diagnosis of Parkinsons.
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What Can You Do If You Have Pd
- Work with your doctor to create a plan to stay healthy. This might include the following:
- A referral to a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the brain
- Care from an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech therapist
- Meeting with a medical social worker to talk about how Parkinson’s will affect your life
For more information, visit our Treatment page.
Page reviewed by Dr. Chauncey Spears, Movement Disorders Fellow at the University of Florida, a Parkinsons Foundation Center of Excellence.
What You Can Expect
Parkinson does follow a broad pattern. While it moves at different paces for different people, changes tend to come on slowly. Symptoms usually get worse over time, and new ones probably will pop up along the way.
Parkinsonâs doesnât always affect how long you live. But it can change your quality of life in a major way. After about 10 years, most people will have at least one major issue, like dementia or a physical disability.
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Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease
You can attribute the symptoms of Parkinson’s to a deficiency of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. The four classic motor symptoms of Parkinson’s include:
Shaking and tremors while you are resting is typically the first sign of Parkinson’s disease, but about one-third of patients won’t experience those symptoms. These symptoms tend to be worsened by emotional and physical stress. Sleep or moving can help reduce these issues.
Parkinson’s disease is both chronic and progressive with symptoms generally getting worse as time goes on. As it progresses, other disabilities can develop, including:
- Difficulty talking and swallowing
- A sudden inability to move,
Some sufferers also have symptoms that don’t affect their motor skills, including:
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and memory loss
- Loss of smell
- Trouble sleeping, including thrashing and other sudden movements
- Change in blood pressure
Parkinsons Disease Could Start In The Gut As Current Research Suggests Typical Parkinsons Deposits Can Be Detected Not Only In The Brain But Also In The Digestive System
Parkinsons disease is, like Alzheimers, a neurodegenerative disorder. It affects more than 4 million people around the world and usually develops after the age of 60.
In this disease, progressive destruction of nerve cells in the brain occurs. Typical symptoms include muscle tremors, muscle stiffness, slow movements, and unstable posture. For now, it is incurable and no specific causes are known.
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Do Pathological Deposits Migrate From The Intestine To The Brain
More and more studies suggest that Parkinsons actually begins in the digestive system, at least in those affected who had digestive disorders years before being diagnosed.
In March 2017, researchers stated in a study that typical Parkinsons deposits in the brain, the so-called alpha-synuclein protein, which causes nerve cells to die, can migrate from the brain to the stomach via the vagus nerve.
However, some scientists also suspect that the deposits take the opposite route, namely that alpha-synuclein could possibly enter the digestive system with food and travel from there to the brain.
There is talk of a pathologically leaky intestinal mucosa , which together with dysbiosis excessively stimulates the immune system and could lead to chronic inflammation and overactivation of nerve cells, with the subsequent alpha-synuclein formation.
One of the latest and important pieces of research supporting the gut-brain hypothesis for Parkinsons has been published in the journal Neuron and has been conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University.
How Is Parkinson Disease Treated
Parkinson disease can’t be cured. But there are different therapies that can help control symptoms. Many of the medicines used to treat Parkinson disease help to offset the loss of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Most of these medicines help manage symptoms quite successfully.
A procedure called deep brain stimulation may also be used to treat Parkinson disease. It sends electrical impulses into the brain to help control tremors and twitching movements. Some people may need surgery to manage Parkinson disease symptoms. Surgery may involve destroying small areas of brain tissue responsible for the symptoms. However, these surgeries are rarely done since deep brain stimulation is now available.
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Symptoms Of Parkinsons Disease
Parkinson’s disease has four main symptoms:
- Tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls
Symptoms of Parkinsons and the rate of progression differ among individuals. Sometimes people dismiss early symptoms of Parkinson’s as the effects of normal aging. In most cases, there are no medical tests to definitively detect the disease, so it can be difficult to diagnose accurately.
Early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually. For example, affected people may feel mild tremors or have difficulty getting out of a chair. They may notice that they speak too softly, or that their handwriting is slow and looks cramped or small. Friends or family members may be the first to notice changes in someone with early Parkinson’s. They may see that the person’s face lacks expression and animation, or that the person does not move an arm or leg normally.
People with Parkinson’s often develop a parkinsonian gait that includes a tendency to lean forward, small quick steps as if hurrying forward, and reduced swinging of the arms. They also may have trouble initiating or continuing movement.
Does Parkinsons Begin In The Gut
A growing body of evidence links the neurodegenerative disease to the gastrointestinal tract, opening new possibilities for treatment
The earliest evidence that the gut might be involved in Parkinsons emerged more than 200 years ago. In 1817, the English surgeon James Parkinson reported that some patients with a condition he termed shaking palsy experienced constipation. In one of the six cases he described, treating the gastrointestinal complaints appeared to alleviate the movement-related problems associated with the disease.
Since then, physicians have noted that constipation is one of the most common symptoms of Parkinsons, appearing in around half the individuals diagnosed with the condition and often preceding the onset of movement-related impairments. Still, for many decades, the research into the disease has focused on the brain. Scientists initially concentrated on the loss of neurons producing dopamine, a molecule involved in many functions including movement. More recently, they have also focused on the aggregation of alpha synuclein, a protein that twists into an aberrant shape in Parkinsons patients. A shift came in 2003, when Heiko Braak, a neuroanatomist at the University of Ulm in Germany, and his colleagues proposed that Parkinsons may actually originate in the gut rather than the brain.
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Medicines For Parkinson’s Disease
Medicines prescribed for Parkinson’s include:
- Drugs that increase the level of dopamine in the brain
- Drugs that affect other brain chemicals in the body
- Drugs that help control nonmotor symptoms
The main therapy for Parkinson’s is levodopa, also called L-dopa. Nerve cells use levodopa to make dopamine to replenish the brain’s dwindling supply. Usually, people take levodopa along with another medication called carbidopa. Carbidopa prevents or reduces some of the side effects of levodopa therapysuch as nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and restlessnessand reduces the amount of levodopa needed to improve symptoms.
People with Parkinson’s should never stop taking levodopa without telling their doctor. Suddenly stopping the drug may have serious side effects, such as being unable to move or having difficulty breathing.
Other medicines used to treat Parkinsons symptoms include:
- Dopamine agonists to mimic the role of dopamine in the brain
- MAO-B inhibitors to slow down an enzyme that breaks down dopamine in the brain
- COMT inhibitors to help break down dopamine
- Amantadine, an old antiviral drug, to reduce involuntary movements
- Anticholinergic drugs to reduce tremors and muscle rigidity