managing side effects

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease. It starts slowly, often with a minor tremor. But over time, the disease will affect everything from your speech to your gait to your cognitive abilities. While treatments are becoming more advanced, there’s still no cure for the disease. An important part of a successful Parkinson’s treatment plan is recognizing and managing secondary symptoms — those that affect your day-to-day life.

Here are a few of the more common secondary symptoms and what you can do to help manage them.


Depression among people with Parkinson’s disease is quite common. In fact, by some estimates at least 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease will experience depression. Facing the reality that your body and life will never be the same can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, worrying, or loss of interest.

It’s imperative that you talk with a doctor or licensed psychologist if you think you may be struggling with depression. Depression can usually be treated successfully with antidepressant medications.

Difficulty Sleeping

More than 75 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease report sleep problems. You may experience restless sleep, where you wake up frequently during the night. You may also experience sleep attacks, or episodes of sudden sleep onset, during the day. Talk with your doctor about taking an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid to help you regulate your sleep.

Constipation and Digestive Issues

As Parkinson’s disease progresses, your digestive tract will slow down and function less efficiently. This lack of movement may lead to increased bowel irritability and constipation.

In addition, certain medications often prescribed to patients with Parkinson’s disease, such as anticholinergics, can cause constipation. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is a good first step remedy. Fresh produce and whole grains also contain a great deal of fiber, which can help prevent constipation. Fiber supplements and powders are also an option for many Parkinson’s patients.

Be sure to ask your doctor how to gradually add fiber powder to your diet. This will ensure you don’t have too much too quickly and make your constipation worse.

Urinary Problems

Just as your digestive tract may become weaker, so can the muscles of your urinary tract system. Parkinson’s disease and medications prescribed for treatment can cause your autonomic nervous system to stop functioning properly. When that happens, you may begin experiencing urinary incontinence or difficulty urinating.

Difficulty Eating

In the later stages of the disease, the muscles in your throat and mouth may work less efficiently. This can make chewing and swallowing difficult. It can also increase the likelihood of drooling or choking while eating. Fear of choking and other eating problems may put you at risk for inadequate nutrition. However, working with an occupational therapist or speech-language therapist may help you regain some control of your facial muscles.

Decreased Range of Movement

Exercise is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people with Parkinson’s disease. Physical therapy or exercise can help improve mobility, muscle tone, and range of motion.

Increasing and maintaining muscle strength may be helpful as muscle tone is lost. In some cases, muscle strength can act as a buffer, countering some of the disease’s more harmful effects. Additionally, massage can help you reduce muscle stress and relax.

Increased Falls and Loss of Balance

Parkinson’s disease can alter your sense of balance and make simple tasks like walking seem more dangerous. When you’re walking, be sure to move slowly so your body can rebalance itself. Here are some other tips to avoid losing your balance:

  • Don’t try to turn around by pivoting on your foot. Instead, turn yourself around by walking in a U-turn pattern.
  • Avoid carrying things while walking. Your hands help your body balance.
  • Prepare your home and remove any fall hazards by arranging furniture with wide spaces between each piece. The wide spaces will give you ample room to walk. Position furniture and lighting so that no extension cords are needed and install handrails in hallways, entryways, stairwells, and along walls.

Sexual Problems

Another common secondary symptom of Parkinson’s disease is decreased libido. Doctors aren’t certain what causes this, but a combination of physical and psychological factors may contribute to the drop in sexual desire. However, the problem is often treatable with medications and counseling.


Medicines prescribed to treat Parkinson’s disease may cause unusual visions, vivid dreams, or even hallucinations. If these side effects do not improve or go away with a change in prescription, your doctor may prescribe an antipsychotic drug.


The lack of normal movement associated with Parkinson’s disease can increase your risk of sore muscles and joints. It may also lead to prolonged pain. Prescription drug treatment can help relieve some of the pain. Exercise has also been found to help relieve muscle rigidity and pain.

Medications prescribed to treat Parkinson’s disease may have additional side effects. These include involuntary movements (or dyskinesia), nausea, hypersexuality, compulsive gambling, and compulsive overeating. Many of these side effects can be resolved with a dose correction or change in medicine. However, it’s not always possible to eliminate the side effects and still treat the Parkinson’s disease effectively. Do not stop taking or self-adjust medications without talking to your doctor first.

While Parkinson’s disease may not be easy to live with, it can be managed. Talk to your doctor, caregiver, or support group about finding ways to help you manage and live with Parkinson’s.