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Parkinson's Disease: Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

Affiliated Physicians: Neurosurgery Team

Definition

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that causes involuntary movements and rigidity, as well as abnormal walking and posture. It is caused by an imbalance between two chemicals that transmit signals from the brain, dopamine and acetylcholine. Most cases of Parkinson's disease are idiopathic - meaning they have no known cause. Doctors understand how the disease affects these patients' brains, but they do not know what triggers the degenerative process. In a small number of patients - about 5 percent - the disease may be caused by some medications, toxins or the recreational drug MPTP.

If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, you may worry how involuntary tremors and other physical symptoms will affect your daily life. While medical management is the first-line therapy, not all patients respond well to medication. UCLA gives these patients another option: Deep brain stimulation surgery.

In southern California and the U.S., our UCLA Neuromodulation for Movement Disorders and Pain Program is the leading center for surgical treatment of Parkinson's.

Deep Brain Stimulation to treat Parkinson's Disease - Tonya's Story

Parkinson's disease symptoms

Patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease may experience the following symptoms:

  • Tremors: Involuntary movements that can affect the arms, legs, fingers, toes and the face, often on just one side of the body
  • Rigidity: Stiff muscles
  • Hypokinesia: Slowed, difficult movements and fixed facial expressions
  • Abnormal gait and posture: Standing posture is bent and patients walk with small, shuffling steps

Deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson's disease at UCLA

If you've been diagnosed with Parkinson's, your doctor will first prescribe medication. There are many drugs available that improve symptoms, but they have many side effects, including nausea, hallucinations and impulsive behavior. Some patients respond well to medications for years before seeing side effects. In these patients, the drugs may start to wear off quickly, or they may become extremely sensitive to the drugs and experience too much movement (dyskinesia.)

Deep brain stimulation is a surgical option available to patients who are intolerant of medications or who experience serious side effects. This procedure involves implanting electrodes, or wires, deep inside the brain to change irregular brain activity. As a result, it improves motor function in patients with Parkinson's disease. It is used more often to treat Parkinson's disease than any other movement disorder.

Deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's: Am I a candidate?

Deep brain stimulation is not a cure, but it can relieve your symptoms from Parkinson's disease when medications are not an option. Only you and your doctor can decide if this surgical procedure is right for you. You may be a candidate for deep brain stimulation if:

  • You have idiopathic Parkinson's disease. Patients with atypical parkinsonism are not candidates.
  • You have good motor function and independence during your best "on" state when taking the drug Sinemet.

Find out more about Deep brain stimulation