A widespread disorder
Parkinson's Disease (PD) is a common chronic neurological disorder that affects over 1 million people in the United States. More people suffer from PD than from multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease combined. PD is primarily a disease of later life although 10% of cases occur in patients under 50.
Despite the progressive nature of PD, most people can maintain healthy and normal lives for many years. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms are usually easily controlled. However, as more dopamine-producing cells are lost, symptoms worsen and become more challenging to treat and manage. A combination of medication management, proper nutrition, exercise and support can help improve functioning.
A number of strategies can be used to treat PD. Perhaps the most effective way is the drug levodopa (L-dopa). L-dopa enters the brain and changes to dopamine, replacing the dopamine that is in short supply in the brain of someone with PD. The reduction of symptoms is usually quite dramatic at first. However, over time, a person's response to this drug declines and fluctuations in symptoms occur throughout the day.
A number of medications can control or lessen these symptoms. Patients can also increase independence and level of functioning from physical, occupational and speech therapy.
A recognized leader in treating PD
The University of Virginia Health System is a widely recognized center for both the medical and surgical treatment of Parkinson's. Patients are seen in the Department of Neurology's Movement Disorders Program and receive expert medical management of tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia, dyskinesias and akinesia.
Surgery can bring relief
Our patients who are candidates for surgery are considered for either a pallidotomy or the implantation of a deep brain stimulator. Our patients with Parkinson's have received great relief from both procedures, but the deep brain stimulator is a more recent development and may be safer and more effective. Learn more about a common surgery to treat Parkinson's.
How a brain stimulator works
The deep brain stimulator is a device that electrically stimulates the brain as a treatment for essential tremor and tremor caused by Parkinson's. The device and an insulated wire lead are implanted into the brain and use small electric impulses to block the brain signals that cause tremors. The wire lead is connected to a device implanted beneath the skin in the upper chest area. The patient uses a hand-held magnet to turn on the stimulation. If the patient experiences tremors on both sides of the body, two stimulators can be used.
Searching for a cure
Despite the availability of a number of treatment and management strategies, no cure exists for PD. The underlying cause of the degeneration of dopamine-producing cells remains a mystery. While scientists work to discover the cause, they also work to find more effective treatments to control symptoms. It is very important that patients and families stay as informed as possible about medical breakthroughs to better cope with the day-to-day challenges that PD brings.
The American Parkinson's Disease Association Information and Referral Center of Virginia is located within the Department of Neurology at the University of Virginia Health System.
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