Parkinson's disease is condition of the nervous system that affects movement and gets worse over time. Its symptoms -- tremors (often starting in one hand), slowed movement, rigidity -- are caused when nerve cells in the brain that make a chemical called dopamine start to break down and die. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or messenger, that sends messages to the parts of the brain that control movement.
Parkinson's disease usually affects people after age 60, but it may start as early as age 40. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications can help reduce the symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms can start very slowly and not be noticed for years. Often they start on one side of the body.
Secondary symptoms may include:
What Causes It?
Researchers aren’t sure why some people get Parkinson’s disease. In people with Parkinson’s, brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine start to die. Dopamine send signals to areas of the brain that deal with muscle activity and movement. The brain starts to lose the ability to tell the body when and how to move.
Risk factors include having a relative with Parkinson's, being exposed to certain pesticides and herbicides, getting older, and lower levels of estrogen in women.
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
Because no test can positively identify Parkinson's, your doctor may rely mostly on interviews with you and your family. Your doctor may order brain scans to measure dopamine activity. Tests may be needed to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.
Exercise, especially intensive exercise, has been shown to improve symptoms and help maintain balance and mobility. Walking, swimming, jogging, or even dancing may help. Because people with Parkinson's disease often have low levels of vitamin D, they are at risk of osteoporosis. Lifting weights can help reduce that risk. Your doctor may recommend an exercise program for you.
Several drugs treat the symptoms of Parkinson's, but they do not cure the disease. Your doctor may change medications and adjust dosages often. Certain drugs used for the treatment of other diseases, especially glaucoma, heart disease, and high blood pressure, may also be used to help treat Parkinson's disease. Doctors may try to wait to start drug therapy because the drugs tend to lose effectiveness over time. Among the drugs used are:
Psychotherapy can help you cope with associated conditions such as depression. Speech, physical, and occupational therapy may help.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Don't try to treat Parkinson's disease with alternative therapies alone. Used with conventional medications, complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) may help provide some relief of symptoms and slow progression of the disease. Some CAM therapies may interfere with certain medications, so work with your physician to find the safest, most effective CAM therapies for you.
Nutrition and Supplements
A low-protein diet helps the body use levodopa and carbidopa most efficiently, so your doctor may suggest that you limit the protein you eat, and eat most protein during the evening hours rather than morning and afternoon. Don't go on a low-protein diet by yourself -- your doctor should watch your diet to make sure you get enough nutrients. A fiber supplement may help prevent constipation, which is a common symptom of Parkinson's.
Many supplements may interact with medications you take for Parkinson's, or may work only at particular doses. Do not take any supplements, even vitamins, without your doctor's guidance.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your doctor to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
Consult a trained homeopath who can determine the right remedy for you and change it when your symptoms change.
May help increase circulation and decrease muscle spasm. Cranio-sacral therapy, an osteopathic form of body work that focuses on the brain and spinal column, may reduce tremors and improve function.
The following movement therapies may help people with Parkinson's have better motor skills and balance, and help them walk better.
Tai chi and yoga can improve balance, flexibility, and range of motion in people with Parkinson's disease. They may also boost mood.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine views disease as caused by internal imbalances. It has historically been used to treat Parkinson's with acupuncture and individually prepared herbal remedies. One study showed that acupuncture improved symptoms in a small group of people with Parkinson's. People with Parkinson's may also find that acupuncture helps them sleep better. If you consult a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, make sure your doctor is aware of any suggested treatment.
Since Parkinson's disease gets worse as time goes on, you will need to be under constant medical care. Drug treatments often don't work as well over time, and you must keep a close eye on your symptoms.
Exercise helps improve mobility. It's important to note the Parkinson's disease patients with dementia are twice as likely to have insulin resistance. Conditions like depression and dementia are often diagnosed in this population, but not adequately treated.
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Review Date: 4/8/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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