What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to produce and control movement. It is a chronic and progressive condition that is marked by a loss of neurons in the brain. The nerve cells die or become impaired, reducing their ability to produce an important chemical called dopamine that helps coordinate movement.
Dr. Mya Schiess
Director, Movement Disorders and Neurodegenerative Diseases
UTHealth Houston Neurosciences and the UT MOVE clinic have recognized leaders in Parkinson’s disease treatment and research who will help you navigate this diagnosis, while providing continued communication and compassionate care. Referring physicians will stay informed and involved during the evaluation and treatment process.
What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences
Our team of physicians has an established record of outstanding care and excellent outcomes for patients with all stages of Parkinson’s disease. We are also on the forefront of research to identify new interventions. Our mission is to help patients maintain their quality of life by applying comprehensive diagnostic and treatment options.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
About 50,000 cases of Parkinson’s are diagnosed each year in the United States and up to 1 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be living with it. The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but it happens as nerve cells in the brain die. Studies have shown that most people with Parkinson’s have lost 60 to 80 percent of their dopamine-producing cells by the time symptoms appear, according to the National Institutes of Health. Researchers have identified specific gene mutations that may cause the condition. Certain environmental toxins or viruses may also trigger the disease.
Men are 50 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s, and the average age of onset is 60.
Early Signs of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s symptoms typically develop over years. Early symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed or be dismissed as normal signs of aging. Most early symptoms involve problems with movement. Patients might notice a tremor in just one hand. They may fall or drop items more frequently. Slowed movement and rigid muscles are also common. Facial expressions can appear blank or fixed. A patient might also experience impaired posture, speech changes, or difficulties swallowing and chewing. Sleep, bladder, and mood changes are also common. As the disease progresses, simple tasks may become hard and time consuming.
Abnormal deposits of protein, called Lewy bodies, can often be found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s. Those are often associated with dementia.
Treatment that begins early is more likely to be effective, so see your doctor if you suspect Parkinson’s disease.
No blood test or X-ray can confirm a Parkinson’s diagnosis, but noninvasive imaging can be used to support a doctor’s diagnosis. A medical history, physical exam, and neurological exam will be conducted to support a diagnosis.
Researchers are working diligently to find a cure or a disease-modifying therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Until then, the focus is on choosing treatments and therapies to best manage symptoms. Medications, such as levodopa, are commonly used to stimulate the remaining cells to produce more dopamine. Other medications might also be prescribed to mimic the role of chemical messengers in the brain. Medical regimens are tailored to each patient’s age and symptoms.
In some cases, neurosurgeons can implant a deep brain stimulator to help lessen symptoms. The device acts like a pacemaker in the brain, sending electrical signals to specific parts and dramatically reducing symptoms. Focused ultrasounds might also be used as an alternative to surgery.
Other medications, such as antidepressants, might be prescribed for non-motor symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and rest, might be recommended.
Researchers are also looking to stem cell therapy as a strategy for producing more dopamine neurons from human stem cells.
Deep Brain Stimulation
Essential tremor/tremor states
Gait and Balance Disorders
Generalized and focal dystonias
Generalized and partial seizures
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spinocerebellar ataxias (SCA)
At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.