While there still is no cure for Parkinson's disease, there are many medications and other treatment approaches available to help improve symptoms. Because Parkinson's is a progressive disease, many experts agree it's important to begin treatment as soon as possible to help you maintain an active lifestyle.
There are a number of different kinds of medications available to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Most medications for Parkinson's disease treat the declining levels of dopamine by either:
You may start out with one medication, but over time your doctor will most likely add and change medications as your symptoms change.
MAO-B inhibitors preserve dopamine. MAO-B is an enzyme that breaks down the dopamine in your brain. MAO-B inhibitors help prevent dopamine from being broken down, so more of your brain's dopamine is preserved.
Dopamine agonists mimic dopamine. Dopamine agonists act like dopamine in the brain, mimicking the effects of dopamine.
Levodopa helps replace dopamine. Levodopa converts to dopamine in the brain, helping to replace the brain's diminished supply of dopamine. Levodopa is a cornerstone PD therapy that many patients will eventually be prescribed.
COMT inhibitors help prevent the breakdown of levodopa. By blocking the action of the COMT enzyme, COMT inhibitors work to prevent the breakdown of levodopa so more levodopa will be available to the brain.
Medication is the foundation of Parkinson's treatment. But the good news is that it's not the only treatment. There are many other things you can do to help stay functional and active.
Exercise. Research has shown that regular exercise in people with Parkinson's does improve:
Your exercise program should be tailored to your personal abilities and any other health concerns, such as high blood pressure or arthritis.
For starters, you might try these:
Nutrition. Nutrition is an important part of your Parkinson's disease game plan. While eating right is important for everyone, proper nutrition may also help prevent some common problems for people with Parkinson's disease:
So what can you do? Start with a balanced diet, and try eating smaller, more frequent meals during the day if your appetite is low. Make sure to eat plenty of high-fiber foods such as whole grains, cooked dried beans, fruits, and vegetables to help with constipation.
Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K support strong bones, so make sure to include foods rich in those nutrients.
And finally, ask your doctor about protein intake if you take levodopa. Meals high in protein can interfere with your body's absorption of levodopa and may affect how it works.
Alternative therapies. Nutritional supplements, acupuncture, massage therapy…you may see claims that these and other alternative therapies help with the symptoms of Parkinson's. Some patients may benefit from therapies such as these, but it's important to discuss any treatment option with your doctor before you begin.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is the most common surgical procedure used to treat Parkinson's disease. However, DBS is generally considered only if currently available medications are not effective or if your symptoms have progressed to the point that medications no longer provide benefit.
In DBS, neurosurgeons implant an electrode into an area of the brain that affects movement. The electrode delivers a continuous, high-frequency electrical stimulator that helps control the movement center in the brain. DBS frequently leads to a dramatic improvement in Parkinson's symptoms and may allow for a reduced dose of levodopa, which may improve levodopa-related side effects and complications. People with Parkinson's should consult with a movement disorder specialist before considering this option.