There is no one test for Parkinson’s, so it can take a while to diagnose the condition. Doctors can usually tell from your symptoms and health history if you have the disease, but they may also do a DaT scan to look for dopamine levels in your brain, or other tests such as an MRI or CT scan, to rule out other conditions that mimic PD (like dementia or ALS).
Parkinson’s disease is an illness that gets worse over time. It causes nerve cells in an area of your brain called the basal ganglia to break down or die. These cells normally make dopamine, a chemical that controls movement. When these cells are damaged, not enough dopamine is made, and your movements become slow and abnormal. Parkinson’s disease symptoms can be divided into motor and nonmotor (thinking and feeling) problems.
The most effective Parkinson’s treatment is levodopa, a drug that helps to replace the dopamine in your brain. It can also help treat some of the other symptoms, such as tremors, stiffness or rigidity of the muscles and the loss of balance when walking. Most people take this medicine along with another drug called carbidopa, which reduces some of the side effects of levodopa, such as nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure and restlessness.
Other medicines that may be used to ease your Parkinson’s disease symptoms include ropinirole (Requip) to control tremors and a group of drugs known as agonists to increase the amount of dopamine available in your brain. These include a cholinergic drug such as amantadine (Amantadine) and a phenothiazine such as bromocriptine (Parlodel). Adenosine receptor antagonists such as istradefylline (Nourianz) or pimavanserin (Nuplazid) are used to help treat hallucinations or delusions that can sometimes happen in Parkinson’s disease.
Your healthcare team may also recommend therapies to improve other symptoms, such as a physiotherapist who can help make moving easier, and a speech-language pathologist who can help with speech problems. They may also advise you on diet and exercise.
Your emotions can have a big impact on how you feel, so it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider and ask about support groups in the community. You can also get advice and information from the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association. Talking to a social worker who is trained in working with patients who have chronic conditions can be useful too. You can also contact your local public health nurse or ask for a care and support needs assessment from your local authority. This is usually free of charge. You can also ask for help from your family and friends.