Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects as many as 6.3 million people worldwide. It typically develops in later life, after the age of 65, but about 15% of those affected are diagnosed before the age of 50. There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, and treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and slowing the progress of the disease. Parkinson’s disease often starts with a nearly unnoticeable tremor in one hand, but eventually affects nearly every bodily system over time.

Symptoms and Complications:

Most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affect motor ability and motor control. As the disease progresses, it makes daily activities difficult and eventually impossible without assistance. There are four primary symptom groups to the disease.

Tremor: Tremor is the most recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease, which often starts with an occasional tremor in one finger that spreads to other parts of the body. In many cases, the tremor only affects one side of the body, especially in the earliest stage of the disease. While it is the most recognized symptom, not everyone diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease will exhibit tremor.

Rigidity: People with Parkinson’s also experience muscle rigidity – stiffness and inflexibility of the joints and limbs. It often begins in the legs and the neck.

Bradykinesia: One of the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is the stooped posture and slow, shuffling walk that accompanies bradykinesia, which is slowed movements. Over time, people with the disease may lose the ability to start and keep moving, and may experience akinesia, the inability to move at all.

Postural instability: People with Parkinson’s experience impaired balance and loss of coordination. This often results in falls that cause injuries, and posture that leans forward or backward.

As the disease progresses, people with Parkinson’s will find it more and more difficult to carry out essential activities of daily living. They will have trouble dressing themselves, feeding themselves and communicating. Parkinson’s will eventually affect speech and communication ability as well, making it impossible for patients to communicate their needs to caretakers.

Risk Factors and Causes:

Parkinson’s symptoms appear to involve the death of brain cells in a small part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Those cells are responsible for producing and regulating dopamine, which is involved in movement control and communication. The National Parkinson’s Foundation reports that 80% of the cells that produce dopamine are lost before the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s even appear. The cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, but researchers have identified some factors that may play a role, including environmental triggers and genetic mutations. Both of these factors only appear rarely in patients with Parkinson’s however, and research continues to identify causes more specifically.


Conventional treatments for Parkinson’s disease include medications to restore the proper balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Researchers are exploring electrical stimulation, stem cell therapy and injections of nerve growth factor, alone and in combination, to preserve, restore and regenerate dopamine producing nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain.

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