Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

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At present, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but several treatments are available to help relieve symptoms.

Medications

A variety of medications provide dramatic relief from the symptoms. Usually, levodopa combined with carbidopa is prescribed. Carbidopa delays the conversion of levodopa into dopamine until it reaches the brain. Nerve cells can use levodopa to make dopamine and replenish the brain's dwindling supply. Although levodopa helps at least three-quarters of Parkinsonian cases, not all symptoms respond equally to the drug.

Bradykinesia and rigidity respond best, while tremor may be only marginally reduced. Problems with balance and other symptoms may not be alleviated at all. Anticholinergics may help control tremor and rigidity. Other drugs, such as bromocriptine, pramipexole, and ropinirole, mimic the role of dopamine in the brain, causing the neurons to react as they would to dopamine.

Brain Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be appropriate if the disease doesn't respond to drugs. A therapy called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has now been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In DBS, electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small electrical device called a pulse generator that can be externally programmed. DBS can reduce the need for levodopa and related drugs, which in turn decreases the involuntary movements called dyskinesias that are a common side effect of levodopa. It also helps to alleviate fluctuations of symptoms and to reduce tremors, slowness of movements, and gait problems. DBS requires careful programming of the stimulator device in order to work correctly.

Prognosis for Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is both chronic, meaning it persists over a long period of time, and progressive, meaning its symptoms grow worse over time. Although some people become severely disabled, others experience only minor motor disruptions. Tremor is the major symptom for some patients, while for others tremor is only a minor complaint and other symptoms are more troublesome. No one can predict which symptoms will affect an individual patient, and the intensity of the symptoms also varies from person to person.

Risk Factors for Parkinson's

  • The single biggest risk factor for Parkinson's disease is advancing age. Men have a somewhat higher risk compared to women. One in 100 people over age 60 are diagnosed with Parkinson's.
  • Head injury and pesticide exposure have also been associated with higher risk.
  • Several genes have been definitively linked to Parkinson's in some people. In addition, several chromosomal regions have been linked to Parkinson's in some families.
  • Severe Parkinson's-like symptoms have been described in people who took an illegal drug contaminated with the chemical MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) and in people who contracted a particularly severe form of influenza during an epidemic in the early 1900s
The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, (NINDS) conducts and supports research on brain and nervous system disorders
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