Frequently Asked Questions About Parkinson's Disease

Print out these questions and answers to discuss with your doctor.

1. Is There a Cure for Parkinson's Disease?

Although research is ongoing, to date there is no known cure or way to prevent Parkinson's disease. Still, research in Parkinson's disease has made remarkable progress. There is very real hope that the causes, whether genetic or environmental, will be identified and the precise effects of these causes on brain function will be understood. These remarkable achievements give real hope for the future.

Even though there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, by identifying individual symptoms and determining a proper course of treatment, most people with the disease can live enjoyable, fulfilling lives.

2. What Causes Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is caused by the progressive impairment or deterioration of neurons (nerve cells) in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. When functioning normally, these neurons produce a vital brain chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine serves as a chemical messenger allowing communication between the substantia nigra and another area of the brain called the basal ganglia. This communication coordinates smooth and balanced muscle movement. A lack of dopamine results in abnormal nerve functioning, causing a loss in the ability to control body movements.

3. Can Parkinson's Be Prevented?

To date, there is no known way to prevent Parkinson's disease. But, there are several treatment options, including drug therapy and/or surgery that can reduce the symptoms, and make living with the disease easier.

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

The most common cause of tremor (involuntary shaking) is a condition called essential tremor. Both essential tremor (ET) and Parkinson's disease (PD) are movement disorders. A movement disorder can be defined as any disease or injury that interferes with an individual's movement.

ET and PD are different conditions but are sometimes associated because they share many features.

Essential tremor is a disease of the body's system of nerves characterized by tremors. Areas affected most often include the hands, arms, head, and sometimes the voice. Essential tremor does not affect life expectancy, but it can become disabling for many common activities, such as writing and eating. ET also does not increase the risk for Parkinson's disease.

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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 leads to a loss of the ability to control 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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7. What Is Guided Imagery?

Guided imagery is a proven form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body. Guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind -- a "mental escape."

This technique, which can aid any treatment or procedure, provides a powerful psychological strategy that enhances a person's coping skills. Many people dealing with stress feel loss of control, fear, panic, anxiety, helplessness, and uncertainty. Research has shown that guided imagery can dramatically counteract these effects. It can help people overcome stress, anger, pain, depression, insomnia, and other problems often associated with illnesses and medical/surgical procedures. It is clear that stress and depression can worsen the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. By using guided imagery, you can stay calm.

8. I Often Have "Freezing" Spells. What Can I Do to Keep Moving?

If you have trouble with "freezing" in place:

  • Rock from foot to foot to get moving again.
  • Have someone place their foot in front of you, or visualize something you need to step over, to get moving again.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on September 04, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Parkinson's disease."

We Move: "Parkinson's Disease."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Parkinson's Disease: Hope Through Research."

Parkinson's Disease Foundation: "Symptoms."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "NINDS Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson's Disease Information Page."

Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research: "Advice for the newly diagnosed."

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