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Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis; More Than Tremors

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system that gradually effects movement. After a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, subtle symptoms are noticeable: maybe a tremor in a single hand, soften speech or slurring, even just having little to no expression in your face. 

Parkinson's isn't just tremors; it's also stiffness or slowing of movements. These symptoms above gradually worsen over time, and while there is no cure, there is still hope through medication prescribed by your doctor to significantly lessen your symptoms and better improve your life. 

Parkinson's disease does not mean your life is over, plenty of people have continued with their careers even after their diagnosis, many people that you would never even realize such as Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, and George H.W. Bush.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's is a progressive disease of the nervous system that gradually leads to rigid muscles, slowed movement, tremors, slurred and softened speech, impairment in movement and balance as well as a loss of automatic movement functions such as blinking or swinging your arms when you walk. 

The disease is caused by neurons in the brain breaking down or dying off. Many of the symptoms experienced are due to these neurons death leading to the inability to produce a chemical messenger called dopamine. There is no specific known cause for Parkinson's, however, there is something that could cause it to develop such as genes, environmental triggers, exposure to herbicides, and pesticides.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

There is currently no specific test available for a Parkinson's disease diagnosis. The only way for your doctor to accurately diagnose you with Parkinson's disease is by looking at your medical history, your symptoms, and a neurological and physical examination. 

In some rare cases, your doctor may request a SPECT scan called a DAT which helps look for dopamine levels, but generally, it's your symptoms that lead to the diagnosis. It's essential to be open and honest with your doctor, so you can get the most accurate diagnoses to allow for fast and effective treatment of your disease.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease

Medication

Medication is the most common form of symptom control for patients with Parkinson's. There is a wide variety of different medicines that help raise levels in dopamine to reduce symptoms since dopamine can't be directly given because it can't enter the brain. 

The most effective and commonly used medication is Carbidopa-levodopa, a natural chemical that your body converts into dopamine. However, over time, the effectiveness will wear off, and dosages will need adjusting to maintain control of symptoms. There is no permanent dosage or set medication, as symptoms progress and change your treatment will have to as well.

Surgery

DBS (Deep brain stimulation) is a form of surgery that can be performed to lessen symptoms of Parkinson's disease by a surgeon placing electrodes onto a specific portion of the brain and sending electric pulses. 

Settings may need to be adjusted, and there are risks associated with surgery such as strokes, infection, and brain hemorrhage. Some patients will experiences problems with the DBS and need the device removed or settings adjusted accordingly.

Pain Management Options

Eating Healthy

No amount of healthy eating will cure you of your Parkinson's. However, eating a healthy and balanced diet has been shown to lessen some symptoms associated with Parkinson's such as constipation by eating a diet high in fiber and drinking plenty of fluids. Drinking fluids will also help prevent muscle cramps related to dehydration.

Exercise: Focus on your body

Typical problems that arise with Parkinson's is muscle weakness, loss of balance, and flexibility. By exercising regularly, these symptoms can be lessened by also increasing your general well being by helping lower depression and anxiety. When exercising, be sure to take it slow and listen to your body, focus on your posture, and make sure never to push yourself too hard.

Alternative Medicine

Various forms of alternative medicine have been shown to increase mobility while also decreasing pain. Some examples of alternative medicines that have been shown to help in pain management are: 

  • Massages:  massages help relax muscles that are tired and sore from tremors and being trapped in a rigid state for long periods. A massage can help these muscles relax and relieve the pain associated with the stiffness that occupies Parkinson's disease.
  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi allows individuals to strengthen their bodies and increase their balance though controlled slow, flowing movements that will enable individuals with Parkinson's to feel in control of their bodies while also improving balance. Studies have shown that Tai Chi was better equipped to increase stability in individuals with Parkinson's than resistance training or even stretching.
  • Yoga: Yoga has been used for years by numerous people to help increase strength, balance, and flexibility. It is exceptionally adaptable to specific limitations allowing anyone to perform the task.
  • Meditation: Meditation has been shown to help patients focus on improving their sense of well-being, reduce stress and pain associated with stress by visualizing an image or idea in their mind
    • Pet Therapy: Pet therapy has been proven to increase mood, as well as help increase movement and flexibility.
    • Alexander technique: Promotes focus on muscle posture, balance and how we use our muscles to help better understand your body, and regain control.

    Talk to your doctor before starting any treatment at home to ensure it is safe for you and the best course of action for your mental and physical well-being. Parkinson’s may slow you down, but it doesn’t have to stop you or control you.

    Final Thoughts

    Living with a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is hard, but we are here to provide the knowledge you need to improve your daily life to allow you to live to the fullest.