Parkinson’s disease is a chronic motor system disorder that occurs when the cells that produce dopamine become destroyed or severely damaged. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals to the brain to control movement. As these cells diminish and the disease progresses, patients gradually lose control of their movements. There is no cure currently available for Parkinson’s disease, although many treatments exist to help patients enjoy a full and happy life.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
The specific cause of Parkinson’s disease and why the dopamine cells break down in some people is unknown, although it may be linked to abnormal genes in some patients. Scientists are also studying aging and environmental factors as potential causes. There is not enough evidence available yet to pinpoint any specific cause, although the disease is most commonly seen in patients over the age of 50 and in men.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
There are four main symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, including:
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Slow movement
- Difficulty walking or balancing
Most patients notice a slight tremor as their initial symptom, which usually begins in one arm or leg and slowly spreads to other areas of the body. Not everyone who develops a tremor has Parkinson’s disease, as this symptom can be associated with other conditions as well.
Since Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, chronic condition, it can eventually lead to serious complications if left untreated. Over time, many patients with this condition experience:
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sexual dysfunction
The medications prescribed for Parkinson’s disease can also cause many side effects as well. Your doctor may prescribe additional treatments in order to counteract these complications.
Parkinson’s Disease Treatment
Although there is no cure available for Parkinson’s disease, there are many treatments available to help control symptoms. For most patients, medication is prescribed to increase the brain’s supply of dopamine, which controls tremors and problems with walking. This is taken in the form of levodopa, a natural substance found in the body that is converted into dopamine when taken in pill form. Other medications commonly prescribed for Parkinson’s disease include dopamine agonists, MAO B inhibitors, anticholinergics and antivirals.
It is also important for patients with Parkinson’s disease to receive regular exercise in order to maintain function throughout the body. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to ensure you get the exercise you need, which includes exercises to improve mobility, range of motion and muscle tone.
Surgery may be performed to treat this condition, through a procedure called deep brain stimulation, which places an electrode within the brain to deliver electrical stimulation and help control movement. Surgery is usually reserved for patients with advanced cases of the disease.
Deep Brain Stimulation
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for patients who do not respond to medication. This treatment option inactivates the parts of the brain that trigger the disease without destroying nearby brain tissue.
During the DBS procedure, a small device called a neurostimulator is implanted under the skin of the chest. This battery-operated device is similar to a pacemaker for the heart and is designed to deliver electrical stimulation to the areas of the brain that control movement in order to prevent tremors and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The device is connected to electrodes that are placed in the brain in order to directly deliver the electrical signals.
The areas in the brain where electrodes are to be placed are targeted before the procedure with the use of MRI or CT scanning. For most patients, the electrodes will be placed on the thalamus, subthalamic nucleus and globus pallidus.
After the DBS procedure has been performed, most patients experience significant symptom relief, but may still need to take medication to treat the disease, although dosage can be reduced. Dosage reduction also helps reduce the occurrence of side effects and can lead to an overall higher quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease.