No known treatment can stop or
reverse the breakdown of nerve cells that causes
Parkinson's disease. But medicine can relieve many
symptoms of the disease.
different for every person. And the type of treatment you will need may change
as the disease progresses. Your age, work status, family, and living situation
can all affect decisions about when to begin treatment, what types of treatment
to use, and when to make changes in treatment. As your medical condition
changes, you may need regular adjustments in your treatment to balance
quality-of-life issues, side effects of treatment, and treatment costs.
Usually, the outward symptoms of Parkinson's are distinctive enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis in the office. There is no blood test or brain scan that confirms the diagnosis. But if you don't respond to the drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease, it’s possible you may have another type of movement disorder that causes the same type of symptoms. Doing additional tests can help your doctor determine if some other problem is causing your parkinsonian symptoms.
The decision to start taking medicine, and which medicine
to take, will be different for each person with Parkinson's disease. Your
doctor will be able to help you make these choices.
years, levodopa has been the drug of choice for treating
Parkinson's disease. Although many newer drugs have
been developed, including the dopamine agonists (for example, pramipexole),
levodopa is still considered the most effective drug for relieving the widest
range of symptoms. It helps reduce tremor, stiffness,
and slowness. And it helps improve muscle control, balance, and walking.
When dopamine agonists are used alone, they are helpful in relieving most
symptoms of early Parkinson's disease, especially those that affect motor
function (such as stiffness and slowness). They are not as effective as
levodopa in controlling tremor and other symptoms. And they tend to have more
side effects than levodopa.
Because levodopa controls the symptoms
of Parkinson's disease so well—and with so few side effects at the
beginning—there is some benefit for people who start treatment with levodopa,
rather than with a dopamine agonist. A person with Parkinson's disease who
starts treatment with levodopa may have more early years with better control of
symptoms and fewer side effects.
But it also is well
documented that most people who take levodopa develop motor problems (motor fluctuations) within 5 to 10 years after starting the medicine. These
complications—unpredictable swings in motor control between doses and
uncontrollable jerking or twitching (dyskinesias)—can be hard to manage
and can become as disabling as some of the problems caused by the disease
itself. But in the longest study done, people who started treatment with a
dopamine agonist had just as many problems with motor fluctuations at 14 years
as people who started treatment with levodopa.1