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    Frequently Asked Questions About Parkinson's Disease

    4. What Is the Difference Between Tremors and Parkinson's Disease? continued...

    Symptoms of essential tremor include:

    • Involuntary tremors that occur for brief periods of time
    • A shaking voice
    • Nodding head
    • Tremors that worsen during periods of emotional stress
    • Tremors that get worse with purposeful movement
    • Tremor lessens with rest
    • Tremors are the only symptom
    • Difficulty with balance (rare)

    Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive brain and nerve disease that affects a small area of nerve cells (neurons) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. These cells normally produce dopamine, a chemical (neurotransmitter) that transmits signals between areas in the brain. These signals, when working normally, coordinate smooth and balanced muscle movement. Parkinson's disease however, causes the neurons in the substantia nigra to die, leading to a lack of dopamine in the brain. The loss of dopamine makes nerve cells fire out of control, causing people to lose the ability to control their body movements normally.

    Symptoms of Parkinson's include:

    • Muscle rigidity
    • Tremors
    • Bradykinesia (the slowing down of movement and the gradual loss of spontaneous activity)
    • Changes in walking pattern and posture
    • Changes in speech and handwriting
    • Loss of balance and increased falls
    • Orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure when standing, resulting in lightheadedness or fainting)

    5. How Do I Know if I Am a Candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation?

    There are many important issues to be addressed when considering deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease. These issues should be discussed with a movement disorders expert or a specially trained neurologist. A movement disorders expert is someone who has trained specifically in movement disorders.

    One of the most important criteria is that you try drug treatment first. Surgery is not recommended if medications can adequately control the disease. However, surgery should be considered if you do not achieve satisfactory control with medications. Talk to your doctor to see if deep brain stimulation is right for you.

    6. How Can I Better Cope With Having Parkinson's Disease?

    The most important step you can take is to seek help as soon as you feel less able to cope with Parkinson's disease. Taking action early will enable you to understand and deal with the many effects of your condition. A mental health care provider can design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. Strategies can be designed to help you regain a sense of control over your life and improve your quality of life.

    Other steps you can take include the following.

    • Find out as much as you can about the illness.
    • Talk to your friends and family about it. Don't isolate them. They will want to be involved in helping you.
    • Do things you enjoy.
    • Do not be afraid to ask your doctor, nurse, or other health care provider to repeat any instructions or medical terms that you don't understand or remember. They should always be available to answer your questions and address your concerns.
    • Make use of resources and support services offered by your hospital and in your community.
    • Learn to manage stress. This will help you to maintain a positive physical, emotional, and spiritual outlook on life. Being stressed out will only make the situation worse. You should try to organize a daily routine that will reduce stress, with down time for both you and your family members.
    • If you are depressed -- and this is more than just feeling sad occasionally -- antidepressants can be prescribed to help lift your mood.

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