Understanding Parkinson's Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment
How Is Parkinson's Disease Diagnosed?
Usually, the outward symptoms of Parkinson's are distinctive enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis in the office. Tests can help your doctor determine whether you have Parkinson's disease or some other type of parkinsonism. If you don't have a response to the drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease, you may have one of these other types of movement disorders and your doctor will probably continue to search for the cause of your symptoms.
What Are the Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease?
Most Parkinson's disease treatments aim to restore the proper balance of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine by increasing dopamine levels. Drugs are the standard way of doing this, but many patients, as their disease worsens, may be candidates for having a brain stimulator surgically implanted.
Conventional Medicine for Parkinson's Disease
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can often be effectively controlled for years with medication.
Levodopa -- also called L-dopa -- is the drug most often prescribed. The body metabolizes it to produce dopamine. Giving dopamine directly is ineffective, though; the brain's natural defense blocks it from being used by the body. To suppress nausea and other possible side effects, levodopa is often used in conjunction with a related drug called carbidopa.
But some patients cannot tolerate carbidopa and take levodopa alone. If you take only levodopa, it's important not to take it at the same time as food or vitamins containing vitamin B-6, which interferes with its effectiveness.
Most doctors try to postpone starting patients on levodopa as long as possible, because the drug tends to lose effectiveness over time. However, there is some controversy about waiting to begin treatment with levodopa because it can be so beneficial. Researchers have thus investigated ways to offset the loss of effectiveness.
COMT inhibitors such as tolcapone (Tasmar) and entacapone (Comtan) are drugs that are taken with levodopa. They prolong the duration of symptom relief by blocking the action of an enzyme that breaks down levodopa.
Stalevo is a combination tablet that combines carbidopa/levodopa with entacapone. While carbidopa reduces the side effects of levodopa, entacapone extends the time levodopa is active in the brain.
Dopamine agonists are dopamine-like drugs that directly imitate dopamine's activity in the brain. Pramipexole, rotigotine, and ropinirole used alone or in combination with L-dopa treat the motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Other medications prescribed for Parkinson's disease include apomorphine, benztropine, amantadine, selegiline, and anticholinergic drugs; all can help control various symptoms -- in some cases by releasing dopamine from nerve cells, in others by reducing the effects of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that can cause a drop in dopamine.
Other Types of Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
Neurologists and neurosurgeons have explored various ways of grafting dopamine-producing cells in the brain of those with Parkinson’s disease, rather than trying to correct the neurotransmitter imbalance with drugs. There is research using stem cells for this purpose.