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Quad Cities Hospital

Diagnosing and Dealing with Parkinson's Disease

Every year, 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's disease are diagnosed, with 7 to 10 million people suffering from the condition worldwide. The number of people who have Parkinson's is greater than the combined number of people who have multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease. All of these diseases deserve awareness and funds in hopes of finding a cure. Parkinson's awareness has slowly come to the forefront as public figures who have this disease step forward to raise awareness. These faces include boxer Muhammad Ali, comedian Billy Connolly and quite possibly the most well-known Parkinson's spokesperson, actor Michael J. Fox. Diagnosing Parkinson's in the early stages is essential to control and slow the progression of the disease.

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Named after the physician who first published a description of the disease in 1817, The Parkinson's Disease Foundation describes the disease as a chronic and progressive movement disorder, with symptoms that worsen over time. Parkinson's involves the malfunction, and then death, of vital nerve cells in the brain called neurons. The area of the brain most commonly affected by Parkinson's is the substantia nigra, a small section of the brain located between the right and left lobes. Over the course of the disease, the brain slowly stops producing a hormone in the brain called dopamine. With diminishing dopamine, the person loses the ability to regulate movement, body and emotions. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's disease but there are options and UnityPoint Health - Trinity can help. 

Risk Factors

  • Age: Parkinson's can begin in middle to late life, usually around the age of 60. If you are diagnosed with Parkinson's before the age of 50, it is considered early onset Parkinson's.

  • Heredity: While your chances of developing Parkinson's increases if you have a family history of the disease, the chances are still small unless many people in your family have been diagnosed.

  • Sex: Studies show, 50 percent more men are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease than women.

  • Exposure to Toxins: If you have worked with herbicides and pesticides regularly during your life, you may be at an increased risk of developing Parkinson's.

Early Symptoms

  • Tremors in hands, arms, legs, jaw and face

  • Slowness of movement, otherwise known as bradykinesia

  • Rigidity or stiffness of limbs and trunk

  • Impaired balance and coordination

  • Sudden change in handwriting, usually making it smaller

  • Changes in speech

  • Loss of smell

  • Trouble sleeping

Diagnosing the Disease

There is no specific test to diagnose Parkinson's disease. The first people to catch the warning signs may be a family doctor or family member. The next step is to visit a neurologist. Due to the lack of testing to diagnose Parkinson's, doctors may run tests to rule out other diseases based on overlapping symptoms. Doctors may also test the physical symptoms related to Parkinson's. They may ask you to rise from a chair unassisted, finding ways to regain balance and if you want with a normal stride and gait.

If your initial physical symptoms match the early signs of Parkinson's, they prescribe medication typically prescribed to Parkinson's sufferers. If your condition improves with the use of medication, that points to a Parkinson's disease diagnosis.

Treatment Options

To treat Parkinson's, the first step is prescribing the right medication. These medications could include carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors, anticholinergics and amantadine. Yet medication loses effectiveness over time.

There is now a surgical procedure and technology able to reduce Parkinson's symptoms without medication. It is called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). Dr. Srinivasan S. Purighalla, M.D., a neurosurgeon working with UnityPoint Health - Trinity, describes DBS as, "A thin wire called a lead, or electrode, is inserted and placed on a targeted area in the brain. The insulated wire passes through the neck and shoulder, connecting to a neurostimulator. The neurostimulator is similar to a pacemaker for the brain and is implanted in the skin under the collarbone."

Control Parkinson's Disease with UnityPoint Health - Trinity

Understanding the risk factors and early symptoms of Parkinson's disease is the first step to taking control. If you feel you or a loved one shows signs of these symptoms or have a family history of this disease, reach out to our neurosurgeon.