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Treatments for Parkinson's disease: Surgery, medication and deep brain stimulation

Parkinson's disease cannot be cured, but many of its symptoms can be relieved or managed.

In the early stages of Parkinson's disease, no treatment may be needed, but needs may change as the condition progresses.

The goal of treatment is to help a person cope with everyday life and maintain their quality of life.

The main treatments for Parkinson's are medications, but surgery and other approaches may be recommended.

Parkinson's disease health care team

Treating Parkinson's disease is often a team effort, involving not only your neurologist, but also a wide variety of specialists. A Parkinson's disease health care team may include:

  • Neurologists
  • Specialist nurses
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Counsellors
  • Social workers
  • Speech therapists
  • Dietitians

The goals of treatment vary for each person, but in most cases, treatment for Parkinson's disease is designed to:

  • Maintain overall quality of life
  • Improve mobility and function
  • Reduce rigidity
  • Reduce tremor
  • Reverse slowed movements
  • Improve posture, gait, balance, speech, and writing skills
  • Maintain mental sharpness

Prescription drugs to treat Parkinson's

Most people with Parkinson's disease can have symptoms treated using prescribed medication.

Because Parkinson's symptoms often occur due to low levels of a chemical messenger in the brain, called dopamine, medicines are used to help increase dopamine levels.

  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Apomorphine
  • Glutamate antagonist
  • Anticholinergics
  • COMT inhibitors
  • MAO-B inhibitors

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about anything you don't understand about your medicines, what they do and any side effects or interactions with other medication.

Alternative treatments

Some studies have suggested vitamin E-rich foods may be beneficial for people with Parkinson's, or multivitamins containing vitamin E, rather than individual vitamin E supplements, if it is lacking in a person's diet. Don’t try any supplement or 'natural' approach without seeking medical advice first.

Relaxation and guided imagery have also been suggested to help with stress, depression and anxiety. Medical studies have shown that relaxation and guided imagery may help slow the progression of symptoms as well as quicken healing time after surgery or injuries.

Surgical treatments for Parkinson's disease

The main types of surgery the NHS offers for Parkinson's disease are deep brain stimulation and lesioning techniques pallidotomy and thalamotomy.

There are other procedures being researched. One involves the transplantation of foetal dopamine neurons (tissue transplant) into the brains of people with Parkinson's disease. The hope is that these cells will be able to re-grow the damaged dopamine-producing nerve cells.

Another uses an infusion of chemicals called growth factors into the basal ganglia of the brain.

Gamma knife surgery uses radiotherapy techniques through the skull.

What is pallidotomy?

It is thought that the part of the brain called the globus pallidus becomes overactive in Parkinson's disease. This overactivity acts like a brake and slows or diminishes bodily movement. Pallidotomy surgery permanently destroys the overactive globus pallidus to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. This treatment can eliminate rigidity and significantly reduce tremor, bradykinesia, and balance problems. Pallidotomy can also enhance medication treatment in people with an advanced form of Parkinson's disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

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