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Parkinson's disease

Treatment of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is a complex progressive brain disorder that disrupts the nerve pathways necessary for controlled body movement.

A cure for Parkinson’s disease is not yet available, so treatment focuses on reducing the severity of motor symptoms like tremor and muscle rigidity. Treatment options for Parkinson’s include two primary therapies: medication and surgery.

At Dignity Health, our neurologists can help determine the right Parkinson’s disease treatment plan for you in CA, NV, or AZ at a location close by.

Parkinson’s disease medications

Parkinson’s results from low levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter — brain chemicals that allow nerve cells to communicate. Medications can directly and indirectly increase dopamine levels, which improve the physical symptoms of the disease.

These are the primary medications doctors prescribe for Parkinson’s disease:

  • Levodopa/carbidopa combination. Nerve cells in the brain use levodopa to create dopamine. Doctors usually prescribe levodopa in conjunction with carbidopa, which blocks the conversion of levodopa into dopamine anywhere else in the body beside the brain.
  • Dopamine agonist drugs act like dopamine in the brain.
  • MAO-B inhibitor and COMT inhibitor drugs prevent the breakdown of dopamine in the brain, so more dopamine is available to nerve cells.
  • Amantadine is an antiviral medication that also helps reduce the motor/movement symptoms of Parkinson’s.
  • Anticholinergic drugs decrease the activity of a specific neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which reduces symptoms like tremor.

Surgery for Parkinson’s disease at Dignity Health

The primary surgery for Parkinson’s disease today is the implantation of a deep brain stimulator (DBS).

In DBS implantation surgery, your doctor places an electrode in the brain and connects it to a small, pacemaker-like device implanted under the skin near your collarbone. The DBS device sends painless electrical pulses to the brain in a way that blocks the errant nerve signals that cause tremor and movement difficulties.

Not everyone is a candidate for DBS surgery. People who initially respond to levodopa but develop movement problems even while taking the drug may be good candidates for DBS.

Most people with Parkinson’s disease respond well to medications, which is why drug therapy remains the front-line treatment for the condition. However, if you feel you may be a candidate for DBS surgery, you should ask your neurologist at Dignity Health about it. Your doctor also may recommend complementary therapies, such as physical or occupational therapy, to help reduce muscle stiffness and improve your quality of life.