Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that involves the degeneration of the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. It primarily impacts the section of the brain called the substantia nigra.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common early signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following:
- Tremor that occurs while at rest and particularly on one side of the body
- Changes in handwriting, such as the words or letters becoming smaller or more crowded
- Loss of smell
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty with moving or walking due to stiffness in the body, especially in the arms or legs
- Changes in voice, such as a softening or lowering of the voice
- Persistent unhappy look on the face called facial masking
- Dizziness or loss of consciousness
- Changes in posture, such as slouching, hunching over or stooping
Researchers are unsure why these neurons begin to degenerate. There may be some genetic factors which make a person more susceptible to Parkinson’s disease, but more research is needed in this area.
Many other conditions can cause the same symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Only a doctor experienced in recognizing the exact combination of symptoms that indicate Parkinson’s disease can make a firm diagnosis.
Diagnosis starts with a physical exam and medical history. Other procedures and tests may be needed to diagnose, including a detailed neurological exam and blood and imaging tests to rule out other potential causes and disorders.
There are a few treatments to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Medication to help with symptoms. These medications usually work to increase dopamine in the brain.
- Deep brain stimulation This procedure may be recommended because, over time, medications may become less effective. Before quality of life declines significantly, we recommend surgery for select patients. Asleep deep brain stimulator surgery is the best way to have your surgery performed with modern computer technology. One to two weeks before your surgery, you will have a special MRI of your brain at the same hospital as your surgery, along with an appointment to make sure you can safely go to sleep with anesthesia for the surgeries. Once asleep you will have two very thin electrodes placed in your brain. There will be a CT scan done before you wake up to confirm the accuracy of the leads, and then your first surgery will finish. You will stay in the hospital one night and go home the next day. One week later, you will have an outpatient surgery where the generator, also known as the “battery,” will be placed below your collar bone (where a pacemaker goes). You will go home the same day, and the battery will be turned on in your neurologist’s office.