Parkinson’s Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Parkinson’s Disease Impacts Estimated 1 Million Americans

By Karen Hales, Neurology Solutions Contributing Writer

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that leads to motor symptoms such as shaking and difficulty with movement and coordination. The brain disorder affects an estimated 1 million Americans and 7 to 10 million people worldwide. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with PD each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. This article provides an overview of Parkinson’s symptoms, how PD is diagnosed, and treatment options.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

PD is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that impacts movement. It comes on slowly, often noticed as shaking in one hand or on one side of the body. As time progresses, Parkinson’s symptoms significantly increase and become more pronounced and noticeable. While tremor is the most well-known sign of PD, the condition also causes stiffness, slowing of movement, foot dragging, and freezing, in which the individual has trouble continuing forward movement. Activities such as shaving, getting in and out of bed, turning over, using cutlery, dressing oneself, walking and even swallowing can become more difficult and time-consuming. Read more: What is Parkinson’s disease?

What causes Parkinson’s symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease impacts nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. In PD, certain nerve cells called alpha-synuclein proteins break down. These are the neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain. Dopamine acts as a transmitter for signals from the brain to other parts of the body and is essential for movement. Dopamine also affects mood: It is responsible for producing pleasurable feelings in response to rewarding activities.

The process of impairment of brain cells is called neurodegeneration. When approximately 60 to 80 percent of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear. This results in an aggravation of motor and non motor symptoms.

How is Parkinson’s diagnosed?

A Parkinson’s diagnosis will take time. There is no single test or scan to confirm a diagnosis. Instead, doctors look for classic symptoms sustained over time. A PD diagnosis will take into account: tremors, rigidity in the wrist and elbow joints, lack or slowness of movement, and unstable posture. Read more for Early Signs of Parkinson’s disease.

What are lesser-known PD symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease is a multi-system disease with wide-ranging impacts. In addition to the condition’s more commonly recognized motor symptoms, people with Parkinson’s may experience apathy, fatigue, depression, anxiety, mood issues, low blood pressure, constipation, pain, trouble sleeping and difficulty swallowing and projecting their voice.

Parkinson’s Treatments

Medications such as dopamine replacement therapy and dopamine-inhibitors, which mimic the effect of dopamine on the brain, are among the main medication treatments for primary symptoms of PD.

While PD medications relieve motor symptoms by increasing dopamine in the brain, elevated dopamine levels can trigger hallucinations and delusions. Evaluating patients to balance their dopamine levels while alleviating hallucinations and delusions can be a complicated process. Antipsychotic medications, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly prescribed for secondary symptoms of PD.

Several recent research developments have brought new hope for treating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and developing therapies to potentially slow disease process.

Complementary / Non-medication Treatments for PD

In addition to medication therapies, your neurologist will also prescribe several complementary therapies to optimize your treatment. These non-medication treatments for Parkinson’s can include exercise, physical therapy, yoga and/or meditation, dietary recommendations, and nutritional supplements. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is yet another treatment that has been shown to benefit certain symptoms associated with PD and for its general anti-aging attributes. Learn more about Complementary Treatments for Parkinson’s.

Advanced Treatments for Parkinson’s disease

In January 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DUOPA®  (carbidopa and levidopa) to lessen the “off” time of patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease. DUOPA is administered using a small, portable infusion pump that delivers the medication continuously for 16 hours via a procedurally-placed tube directly into the small intestine. The treatment, developed by AbbVie, bypasses the stomach.

People with PD also often consider deep brain stimulation implant surgery (DBS) to stabilize their symptoms, reduce the need for medications and provide more consistent relief of symptoms in medication off-periods.

The FDA last spring approved the use of the Medtronic Parkinson’s deep-brain stimulation device to treat complications from Parkinson’s disease much earlier than before. The FDA decision makes DBS advisable for patients who have had the condition for at least 4 years but only recently experienced motor symptoms. Specialists in PD recommend starting conversations about treatments such as DBS with your doctor before symptoms of the disease have become severe and have a significant impact on quality of life.

Neurology Solutions sponsors a monthly Deep Brain Stimulation Learning & Support Group to provide a chance to meet other people who have undergone DBS surgery and share issues, concerns and advice about life with DBS.

Movement specialists trained in managing Parkinson’s disease

Individuals diagnosed with PD and other parkinsonism syndromes should seek the advice of doctors who specialize in treating these complex movement disorders, even when the illness is only suspected. A neurologist or movement disorder specialist will track progression of Parkinson’s symptoms and assist with managing them through medication and other therapies. Choices about medications made early in the course of Parkinson’s disease can have a lasting impact on the course of the illness.

Movement disorder specialists (MDS) have extensive experience treating these conditions and managing medication side effects and disease progression to maintain patients’ quality of life.  Individuals with PD should seek a medication review at least annually to ensure they are taking advantage of the latest most effective treatments for managing symptoms.


Neurology Solutions is accepting new patients seeking a specialist in managing Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, essential tremor and age-related movement disorders. If you are looking to confirm a diagnosis and/or find possible different treatment choices for managing symptoms of a movement disorder, please contact Neurology Solutions or call 512-865-6310 to schedule an appointment.

Stay informed by frequenting Neurology Solutions’ blog or join Neurology Solutions Movement Disorders Center’s email list to stay up to date on the latest in treatments and how to manage stress, stay healthy and maintain quality of life while living with dystonia, PD and other movement disorders.


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