Parkinson's Disease: Symptoms and Treatments

By Jason M Carlton

Robin Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, recently revealed that her husband was not only battling depression and anxiety, but also the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. While there is no cure for this degenerative disease, there are treatments to help control the symptoms associated with the disease. 

Parkinsons-Disease-Symptoms-Treatment

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder affecting the central nervous system. While the cause of the disease itself is unknown, the symptoms are a result of dopamine-generating cells in the brain dying.

What are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are four primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

-       Tremors, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw and face

-       Rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs or trunk

-       Bradykinesia, or slowness of movement

-       Postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination

The initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle, and gradually increase with time. The progression of the symptoms varies patient to patient, but in time, the tremors and other symptoms make certain daily activities more difficult.

The three most common risk factors for Parkinson’s disease are age (the older you get the more at risk you are), genetics (having a close relative with the disease) and gender (men are more likely than women to develop the disease).

What are the treatments for Parkinson’s disease?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease. But there are treatments available to help address the symptoms.

“Parkinson’s disease is a clinical diagnosis, meaning there is no lab test or medical scan that confirms a diagnosis,” said Mengjing Chloe Huan, MD, Neurohospitalist at Intermountain Medical Center. “Oftentimes those methods are used to rule out other diseases, but the actual diagnosis is based on a clinical exam.”

Following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, medications are used to help address the symptoms.

“Medications are not the only treatment strategy for Parkinson’s,” said Dr. Huan. “Exercise and physical therapy are also very important elements used in addressing the symptoms of the disease.”

If the effectiveness of the medications decreases as the disease progresses, surgery may be an option. Deep Brain Stimulation can help control the tremors associated with Parkinson’s. During the procedure, a neurosurgeon will implant electrical leads into the brain and connect them to a small device that is placed in the patient’s chest similar to a pacemaker. The device gives off electrical pulses that correct the misfirings of the brain that are causing the Parkinson’s symptoms.  

“The only viable option was to find some way to take back control of my body,” said Reggie Welles, who had the procedure in October 2013. While he still can’t play the piano, he has been able to return to his favorite hobby – building radio-controlled model aircraft from scratch. Ed Yeates from KSL5 shared Reggie’s story earlier this year.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease, contact the Neurosciences Institute at Intermountain Medical Center