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Friday, September 23, 2011


It is important to realize that not every person with Parkinson's develops all signs or symptoms of the disease. For example, some people experience tremor as the primary symptom, while others may not have tremor but do have balance problems. Also, for some people the disease progresses quickly, and in others it does not. The following are descriptions of the most common primary symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Tremor: In the early stages of the disease, about 70 percent of people experience a slight tremor in the hand or foot on one side of the body, or less commonly in the jaw or face. It appears as a "beating" or oscillating movement. Because the Parkinson's tremor usually appears when a person's muscles are relaxed, it is called "resting tremor." This means that the affected body part trembles when it is not doing work, and it usually subsides when a person begins an action. The tremor often spreads to the other side of the body as the disease progresses, but remains most apparent on the original side of occurrence.
Rigidity: Rigidity, also called increased muscle tone, means stiffness or inflexibility of the muscles. Muscles normally stretch when they move, and then relax when they are at rest. In rigidity, the muscle tone of an affected limb is always stiff and does not relax, sometimes resulting in a decreased range of motion. For example, a person who has rigidity may not be able to swing his or her arms when walking because the muscles are too tight. Rigidity can cause pain and cramping.
Bradykinesia: Bradykinesia is the phenomenon of a person experiencing slow movements. In addition to slow movements, a person with bradykinesia will probably also have incomplete movement, difficulty initiating movements and sudden stopping of ongoing movement. People who have bradykinesia may walk with short, shuffling steps (this is called festination). Bradykinesia and rigidity can occur in the facial muscles, reducing a person's range of facial expressions and resulting in a "mask-like" appearance.
Postural instability or impaired balance and coordination: People with Parkinson's disease often experience instability when standing or impaired balance and coordination. These symptoms, combined with other symptoms such as bradykinesia, increase the probability of falling. People with balance problems may have difficulty making turns or abrupt movements. They may go through periods of "freezing," which is when a person feels stuck to the ground and finds it difficult to start walking. The slowness and incompleteness of movement can also affect speaking and swallowing.

What causes Parkinson's?
Why an individual develops Parkinson's disease remains unclear. The cause is probably a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and may vary from person to person. Although the cause of Parkinson's remains unknown, scientists have identified factors that contribute to Parkinson's in some patients. For example, people over age 60 have a two-to-four percent risk of developing Parkinson's disease, compared with the one-to-two percent risk in the general population.
Below is information on the two factors that scientists think are most likely to cause Parkinson's disease.
Genetics About 15 to 25 percent of people with Parkinson's report having a relative with the disease. In large epidemiological studies (studies that deal with incidence, distribution and control of disease in a population), researchers have found that people with an affected first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, have a two-to-three fold increased risk of developing Parkinson's, as compared to the general population. This means that if your parent has Parkinson's, your chances of developing the disease are slightly higher than the risk in the general population.
The vast majority of Parkinson's cases are not directly inherited, but researchers have discovered several genes that can cause the disease in a small number of families. Some of these genes involve proteins that play a role in dopamine cell functions. Because genetic forms of a disease can be studied in great detail in the laboratory, and because understanding the rare genetic forms of Parkinson's disease may help to understand more common forms of the disease, genetic aspects of PD are currently the subject of intense research.
Environmental Factors Some scientists have suggested that Parkinson's disease may result from exposure to an environmental toxin or injury. Epidemiological research has identified several factors that may be linked to PD, including rural living, well water, herbicide use and exposure to pesticides. Also, a synthetic narcotic agent called MPTP can cause immediate and permanent parkinsonism if injected. These environmental factors are not useful in diagnosing the cause of Parkinson's disease in individual people. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that any environmental factor, alone, can be considered a cause of the disease. However, these environmental factors have been helpful in studying laboratory models of Parkinson's disease. Scientists are continuing to pursue these clues to establish more concrete linkages.

Parkinson’s Medications
People with Parkinson’s disease often take a variety of medications in different doses in order to manage the symptoms of the disease.  These factors, combined with the frequency with which one must take their medicines, can be confusing.  People with Parkinson’s and their caregivers should become familiar with their medications in order to use them most effectively and avoid possible interactions. Understanding a medication regime and sticking to it will provide the greatest benefit from the drug and avoid unpleasant “off” periods due to missed doses or confusion.
Although there are general guidelines that doctors use to choose a treatment regimen, each patient must be individually evaluated to determine which drug or combination of drugs is best for them.  For some, a “first choice” drug might be one of the levodopa preparations, and for others, an initial prescription may be given for one of the agonists, an MAO inhibitor or an anticholinergic.  The choice of drug treatment depends on many variables including symptom presentation, other concurrent health issues (and the medications being used to treat them) and a person’s age.  And while the suggested starting dosages (as indicated by the package insert) are listed here, remember that they too can vary greatly depending on a person’s needs and metabolism.

Surgical Treatment for Parkinson's
Surgery for Parkinson's disease has come a long way since it was first developed more than 50 years ago. The newest version of this surgery, deep brain stimulation or DBS, was developed in the 1990s and is now a standard treatment. Although it is certainly the most important therapeutic advance since the development of levodopa, it is not for every person with Parkinson's. It is most effective - sometimes, dramatically so - for individuals who experience disabling tremors, wearing-off spells and medication-induced dyskinesias.
During deep brain stimulation surgery, electrodes are inserted into the targeted brain region using MRI and neurophysiological mapping to ensure that they are implanted in the right place. A device called an impulse generator or IPG (similar to a pacemaker) is implanted under the collarbone to provide an electrical impulse to a part of the brain involved in motor function. Patients have a controller, which allows them to check the battery and to turn the device on or off. An IPG battery lasts for about 3 to 5 years and is relatively easy to replace under local anesthesia.

The Role of the Patient
Treating Parkinson's disease is not exclusively the doctor's job; there are many things a person with Parkinson's can do to contribute. Regular exercise, joining a support group, maintaining a healthy diet and taking part in a clinical trial are just some of the things you might consider.
•    Exercise
•    Support Groups
•    Diet
•    A Healthy Patient / Doctor Relationship
•    Physical, Speech and / or Occupational Therapy
•    Clinical Trials
Exercise: For people with Parkinson's, regular exercise or physical therapy is crucial for maintaining and improving mobility, flexibility, balance, range of motion and for warding off many of the disease's secondary symptoms such as depression and constipation. PDF offers Motivating Moves for People with Parkinson's, a unique program of 24 seated and stimulating exercises that were created especially for people with Parkinson's. Copies are available for ordering through the website, or you can call or email PDF for more information. As with every aspect of your care, always consult your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Support groups: For many people, support groups play an important role in the emotional well-being of patients and families. They can provide a caring environment for asking questions about Parkinson's, for sharing stories and advice and for creating friendships with people who have experienced similar problems. To find a support group in your area, please call or email PDF. In addition to in-person support groups, many people also find online groups and list servs helpful. For a listing of list servs that serve the Parkinson's community, please request our publication, Web Resources for People with Parkinson's Disease.
Diet: Many people with Parkinson's lose weight because of poor appetite and inadequate food intake. It is recommended to maintain a full diet that contains all the daily nutritional requirements, including extra fresh fruits and vegetables for fiber to help prevent constipation and plenty of fluids to keep hydrated.
Some people who take levodopa find that protein may interfere with the medication's effect. Limiting protein intake or staggering the medication dosing to avoid conflicts with meals can help this problem. However, adjustments in protein intake are only worthwhile for those very few people whose response to levodopa is indeed sensitive to dietary protein.
People with Parkinson's who lose weight for no clear reason should discuss this with a physician.
A Healthy Patient/Doctor Relationship: Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson's - specifically in its early stages - is difficult, but a skilled practitioner can come to a reasoned conclusion that it is Parkinson's. Every person diagnosed with Parkinson's should consider getting a second opinion from a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders and is up-to-date on research and approaches to therapy.
Locating a qualified physician is a first step; next is considering whether the physician is the right one. A person with Parkinson's will work with a physician for many years. Consider these questions:
•    Are you comfortable speaking with your physician?
•    Do you feel respected by your doctor?
•    Are questions answered to your satisfaction or do you come away from a visit feeling that you have not been taken seriously?
•    Can you get in touch with the doctor between visits?
To find a neurologist or movement disorder specialist in your area:
•    Ask your primary care physician for a referral
•    Seek referrals from other living with Parkinson's
•    Contact your insurance provider for a list of neurologists or movement disorder specialists in your network
•    Contact PDF for a referral.
Physical, Speech and/or Occupational Therapy: These therapies can help Parkinson's patients control their symptoms and make daily life easier. Physical therapy may increase muscle strength and flexibility and decrease the incidence of falls. Speech therapy can increase voice volume and assist with word pronunciation. The Lee Silverman technique is a special speech therapy that can be very beneficial to people with Parkinson's - for further information see
Occupational therapy gives people alternative methods of doing tasks that they can no longer perform with ease. These options may provide a stronger sense of control when living with Parkinson's disease. A neurologist should be able to provide recommendations for these therapies and, if needed, a referral. These therapies may or may not be covered by insurance.
Clinical Trials: Clinical trials (also called medical research, clinical research or a clinical study) help researchers answer specific questions about the safety and efficacy of new treatments by studying its effects in people. They are an essential and necessary component of the scientific research process. Simply put, there is no other way for research to show that a proposed treatment works. In addition to contributing to research, joining a clinical trial can provide a person with early access to potentially-helpful Parkinson's treatments and drugs that are not yet on the market.