What you need to know about Parkinson’s Disease

Published 5:01 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

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More than 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, 90,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. The chronic, degenerative central nervous system disease is marked by tremor, muscular rigidity, speech and handwriting changes and slow, imprecise movement.

Parkinson’s impacts many systems in the body. Symptoms of the disease differ from person to person and usually develop slowly over time. It can be easy to detect someone with untreated Parkinson’s because of the outward signs and symptoms.

Those motor symptoms include progressively small handwriting, shuffling gait, soft speech, tremor (but not always), hand or foot cramping, drooling, swaying movements (dyskinesia) and masked face (hypomimia).

In people with Parkinson’s, cells that produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine are impaired. The body’s nervous system uses dopamine, sometimes called a chemical messenger, to relay messages between nerve cells. As Parkinson’s progresses, more dopamine-producing brain cells become disabled, and the brain eventually ceases to produce enough of the neurotransmitter. This causes worsening problems with movement.

While it is a disease that impairs movement, Parkinson’s also involves non-motor symptoms. Observers may not be able to see these hidden symptoms, but it is important to know they are common and can be more troublesome than motor symptoms.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, non-motor symptoms can include cognitive changes, constipation, early satiety (getting full easily with small meals), excessive sweating, fatigue, increase in dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis), hallucinations and delusions, lightheadedness, loss of sense of smell or taste, mood disorders, pain, sleep disorders, urinary urgency, frequency and incontinence and vision problems.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are treatment options to manage symptoms. Parkinson’s disease symptoms are treated by promoting dopamine release, replacing dopamine with medication, and trying alternatives or additions to dopamine treatment. Deep brain stimulation surgery is another treatment option.

The most potent medication for Parkinson’s is levodopa, developed in the late 1960s under Swedish scientist Arvid Carlsson, who later won a Nobel Prize for his work. It represented one of the most important breakthroughs in the history of medicine. Levodopa is almost always given in combination with the drug carbidopa, which prevents nausea that can be caused by levodopa alone. However, the effectiveness of these medications can wane after a while, causing symptoms to return between doses.

If you suspect that you or a family member has symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, please contact your physician.


Dr. Mason Dyess received his undergraduate and medical degrees from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He went on to complete his residency in neurology at Larkin Community Hospital in Miami, Florida, where he served as chief resident. Dr. Dyess also completed a fellowship in headache medicine from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, where his research involved modifiable risk factors in preventing migraine. Dr. Dyess joined Ochsner in 2021. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dyess at Ochsner Health Center – Kenner (200 W. Esplanade Ave., Kenner), visit www.ochsner.org or please call 504-464-8506.