Parkinson’s disease changes how you move

Parkinson’s disease is named after the British doctor, James Parkinson, who first defined the symptoms back in 1817. Dr. Parkinson thoughtfully and carefully documented his patients’ symptoms, such as hand tremors, stooped posture and shorter steps, and how they affected their everyday lives.

Though Dr. Parkinson could do little for his patients 200 years ago, new medicines and treatments today are helping many people with Parkinson’s disease control symptoms.

We now understand that Parkinson’s disease occurs when certain brain cells die. Without these cells, your brain doesn’t have enough of a chemical called dopamine that helps your brain control how you move. Researchers are looking for ways to keep brain cells from dying and keep your brain healthy.

Slow and subtle signs of Parkinson’s disease

The first signs of Parkinson’s disease are so hard to spot that you may not even notice them. However, symptoms get worse over time, especially without treatment. Symptoms may include:

  • Not swinging your arms when you walk
  • Having an emotionless expression
  • Shaking in your hands
  • Walking more slowly, in shorter steps or dragging your feet
  • Stooped posture
  • Stiff muscles that sometimes hurt
  • Speaking differently, such as more quietly, quickly or slurring speech
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Poor balance

If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Parkinson’s disease symptoms can look like many other conditions, so only a trained neurologist (a doctor who specializes in caring for the brain) can diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

Medicine and therapy help you regain control

Medicines for Parkinson’s disease can make a dramatic difference in your day-to-day life. These include:

  • Carbidopa-levodopa – Though the name sounds silly, this medicine offers serious benefits. It increases the dopamine in your brain so you can walk and move more easily. You may take carbidopa-levodopa as a pill or through a tube that goes directly to your intestines to absorb the medicine better.
  • Dopamine agonists – Dopamine agonists also increase the dopamine in your brain, though they often don’t work as well as carbidopa-levodopa. You can take dopamine agonists as a pill, patch or fast-acting injection.
  • MAO-B inhibitors or Catechol-O-methyltransferase inhibitors – These pills help keep dopamine from breaking down in your brain. They can interact badly with other medicines, so tell your doctor about all the medicines you are taking before he or she prescribes these pills.

Specially-designed physical, occupational and speech therapy can also help you move and perform day-to-day tasks more easily. Therapists help you build strength and flexibility, regain balance and learn to move faster.

If medicines stop controlling your symptoms over time, you may consider deep brain stimulation. For this procedure, tiny metal electrodes are placed into the area of your brain that controls movement. These electrodes are connected by thin wires to a battery in your chest that sends electrical signals into your brain.

The signals disrupt electrical activity in your brain, helping stop tremors, stiffness and slow movements. Because there are risks involved with surgery to place electrodes, doctors only suggest deep brain stimulation if you have advanced and uncontrollable symptoms.

Parkinson’s support group at Main Line Health

The focus of the group is to enhance quality of life through education, symptom management, and strategies for support and coping. Our goal is to inform, inspire, educate, and build community support and camaraderie. Meetings are facilitated by Main Line Health clinicians and staff. For information or to let us know you’ll be joining us, email [email protected].

See upcoming support group dates

To schedule an appointment with a Parkinson’s disease specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.