Parkinsonism: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Parkinson’s Disease (Primary Parkinsonism): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment including Latest on the topic

Parkinson’s disease belongs to a group of disorders known as Parkinsonism. It is also known as primary parkinsonism or idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, meaning it has no known cause. Characterized by motor symptoms like tremors, muscle rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and postural instability, the main etiology of the disease is the gradual degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, particularly in an area called the substantia nigra.

This article is a part of a multipage post about Parkinsonism. If you would like to read about it, please visit page 1 of this post. You can scroll through the pages for other types of Parkinsonism. The table of content here shows the sections of the article on this page alone. Table of contents on page 1 links to all the sections of this post.

Table of Contents

The Role of Dopamine

The hallmark feature of Parkinson’s disease is the depletion of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for facilitating smooth, coordinated movements. Think of dopamine as a chemical messenger that carries messages across the synapsis (junction of nerves). As dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra deteriorate, the brain’s ability to transmit signals that regulate movement becomes impaired. Without enough dopamine, the nerve cells cannot communicate properly, and the movement becomes abnormal.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition, meaning it gets worse over time. The symptoms may vary from person to person and may change throughout the course of the disease.

Etiology (Causes) of Parkinson’s Disease

While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains elusive, it is believed to result from a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental triggers. Certain genetic mutations, such as those in the PARKIN and LRRK2 genes, have been associated with an increased risk of developing PD. Additionally, exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, and head injuries might contribute to its onset. All these factors may contribute to the development of disease; however, most cases are sporadic, meaning they occur without a clear family history.

Neurodegeneration and Alpha-Synuclein: A key pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease is the accumulation of abnormal protein aggregates called Lewy bodies, primarily composed of a protein called alpha-synuclein. These aggregates disrupt normal cellular processes and contribute to neuronal cell death, further worsening the motor symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease Stages: 5 Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that progresses in five stages, according to the Hoehn and Yahr scale:

Stage 1:

Mild symptoms that do not interfere with daily activities. Tremors and other movement problems occur on one side of the body only. Changes in posture, walk, and facial expressions may be noticed by others.

Stage 2:

Moderate symptoms that affect both sides of the body. Muscle stiffness, tremors, and trembling are more noticeable. Walking and posture problems may develop. Tasks take longer to complete, but people can still live alone.

Stage 3:

Moderate to severe symptoms that impair balance and reflexes. Falls are more common. Movements are slower and more difficult. Speech problems may occur. People can still perform basic activities of daily living, but may need more assistance.

Stage 4:

Severe symptoms that limit mobility. Standing is possible, but movement may require a walker or other assistive device. People need help with daily activities and cannot live alone.

Stage 5:

Advanced symptoms that make people unable to stand or walk. They require constant nursing care. They may experience hallucinations, delusions, dementia, and other non-motor symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease:

Motor Symptoms: The classic motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, particularly “resting tremors” that occur when the muscles are at rest; muscle rigidity, which leads to stiffness and reduced range of motion; bradykinesia, making movements slow and cumbersome; and postural instability, increasing the risk of falls.

Non-Motor Symptoms: Beyond motor disturbances, Parkinson’s disease can also manifest non-motor symptoms, which might appear before motor symptoms or even in the absence of severe motor impairment. These include depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, cognitive changes, loss of smell, constipation, and speech difficulties.

Signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can be categorized into two categories depending upon the chronological order in which they appear.

Early signs of Parkinson’s disease

Early signs of Parkinson’s disease include Tremors (usually the hand or fingers), Micrographia (Such a change in size and spacing of letters that they appear small and cramped), Loss of smell, Trouble sleeping (also known as REM sleep behavior disorder), and trouble moving or walking

Late signs of Parkinson’s disease

Late signs of Parkinson’s disease include speech changes, impaired posture or balance, a decreased ability to perform unconscious or habitual actions such as blinking, smiling, or swinging arms, and constipation.

Diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is mostly diagnosed based on the medical history, physical examination, and response to medication. There is no specific test that can confirm or rule out Parkinson’s disease, but some tests may be done to exclude other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as stroke, brain tumor, or medication side effects.

Clinical Assessment: Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease involves a comprehensive assessment of medical history, neurological examination, and the presence of motor and non-motor symptoms. Neurologists often rely on standardized scales, such as the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), to gauge the severity of symptoms.

Role of Neuroimaging: Neuroimaging techniques like MRI and PET scans can aid in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease by revealing patterns of brain degeneration and helping to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.

Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatments can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life. The most common treatment is medication that replaces or mimics dopamine, while other treatments help symptoms or improve the overall quality of life.


The primary goal of medication in Parkinson’s disease management is to replace dopamine or enhance its effects. Levodopa, a precursor to dopamine, is a commonly prescribed drug that helps alleviate motor symptoms. Dopamine agonists and monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors can also provide relief. Other medications may be used to treat specific symptoms, such as anticholinergics for tremors or antidepressants for mood disorders.

Surgical Interventions

In cases where medication fails to provide adequate control over symptoms, surgical options like deep brain stimulation (DBS) can be considered. DBS involves implanting electrodes into specific brain regions to modulate abnormal neural activity and improve motor function.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy plays a vital role in maintaining mobility and preventing muscle stiffness. Occupational therapy assists individuals in adapting to daily tasks, enhancing their overall quality of life.

Lifestyle Modifications

Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep can complement medical interventions, contributing to better symptom management and overall well-being.

Supportive Care

Parkinson’s disease can take a toll on mental health. Support groups, counseling, and psychotherapy can help individuals and their caregivers navigate emotional challenges effectively.

Future Prospects Latest Advancements in Research

In recent years, significant advancements have emerged in the field of Parkinson’s disease research and treatment. These cutting-edge developments offer hope for enhanced diagnosis, management, and potentially even disease modification. Below, we explore several key advancements that hold promise for the future of Parkinson’s disease care.

SPECT Scan and Alpha-Synuclein Seed Amplification Assay

SPECT Scan: Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans have gained attention for their potential to aid early diagnosis. These scans can visualize changes in brain activity and provide insights into the degeneration of dopamine-producing cells, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.

Alpha-Synuclein Seed Amplification Assay: This innovative assay focuses on the pathological protein aggregates known as alpha-synuclein, which play a central role in Parkinson’s disease. By detecting these aggregates, clinicians can potentially identify the disease earlier, allowing for more timely interventions.

MRI-Guided Focused Ultrasound

MRI-Guided Focused Ultrasound: This non-invasive technology utilizes focused ultrasound waves guided by MRI imaging to target specific brain regions. It holds promise as a treatment option for alleviating tremors and dyskinesia by modulating neural activity without the need for surgery.

FDA-Approved Sublingual Apomorphine

FDA approval in May 2020 marked a milestone in Parkinson’s disease management. This sublingual medication offers a rapid and effective way to reverse “OFF” periods, characterized by a decline in medication effectiveness and increased motor symptoms.

NLX-112 for Motor Symptoms and Dyskinesia

Recent trials have shown that NLX-112 has the potential to address both motor symptoms and dyskinesia in Parkinson’s disease. This compound acts on specific receptors in the brain, offering a dual benefit for patients with these challenging symptoms.

Deep Brain Stimulation and Gene Therapy

Building on established success, deep brain stimulation continues to evolve as a treatment option. This surgical procedure involves implanting electrodes in precise brain regions to regulate abnormal neural activity, improving motor function and quality of life.

Genetic approaches hold immense promise for Parkinson’s disease treatment. Gene therapy aims to replace or repair faulty genes responsible for the condition, potentially providing long-lasting benefits and even halting disease progression.

Gut Microbiome Link The emerging connection between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease has captivated researchers. Studies suggest that alterations in the gut microbiome composition may impact disease progression, opening avenues for interventions that target gut health.

ABBV-951: Carbidopa and Levodopa Combination

Comprising a combination of carbidopa and levodopa, ABBV-951 has demonstrated promise in treating Parkinson’s disease. This oral therapy aims to address motor symptoms by replenishing dopamine levels in the brain, a central goal in managing the condition.

NADPARK Trial and Improved NAD Metabolism

The landmark NADPARK trial has shed light on the importance of NAD metabolism in Parkinson’s disease. This trial showed improved NAD metabolism in individuals with the condition, suggesting potential avenues for targeted therapies that enhance cellular energy production and neuroprotection.

The future of Parkinson’s disease management is filled with optimism, thanks to these groundbreaking advancements. As these advancements continue to progress, they hold the potential to transform Parkinson’s disease care and provide new avenues for enhancing patients’ well-being and quality of life.

In conclusion, Parkinson’s disease remains a complex neurological puzzle, impacting movement and quality of life for those affected. While the exact cause remains elusive, advancements in medical understanding have paved the way for improved diagnostic methods, a range of treatment options, and ongoing research aimed at unraveling its mysteries. Early diagnosis, a holistic treatment approach, and a supportive environment are pivotal in helping individuals with Parkinson’s disease lead fulfilling lives despite the challenges they face.

Dr. Muhammad Hussain
Dr. Muhammad Hussain

MD, Entrepeneur & Administrator. Six years of experience, working in the field of clinical care, medical administration, and healthcare business.

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