Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease. It starts slowly, often with a minor tremor. But over time, it can affect everything from speech to gait to cognitive abilities.
While treatments are becoming more advanced, there’s still no cure for Parkinson’s disease. An important part of a successful Parkinson’s treatment plan is recognizing and managing secondary symptoms — those that affect day-to-day life.
Here are a few of the more common secondary symptoms and what you can do to help manage them.
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.
Talk with a doctor or licensed mental health professional if you notice signs of depression. Depression can usually be treated successfully with medication or other therapies.
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 treatment methods, such as taking an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid to help you regulate your sleep.
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 for Parkinson’s disease, such as anticholinergics, can cause constipation. Eating a 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 those with Parkinson’s.
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 constipation worse.
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.
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 affect your nutrition. However, working with an occupational therapist or speech-language therapist may help you regain some control of your facial muscles.
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 other effects of Parkinson’s. Additionally, massage can help you reduce muscle stress and relax.
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.
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.
Medications prescribed to treat Parkinson’s disease may cause unusual visions, vivid dreams, or even hallucinations.
If these side effects don’t 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)
- compulsive gambling or overeating
Many of these side effects can be resolved with a dose correction or change in medication.
However, it’s not always possible to eliminate the side effects and still treat Parkinson’s disease effectively. Don’t stop taking or self-adjust medications without talking to your doctor first.
While Parkinson’s disease has many possible side effects, it can be managed. Talk with your doctor, caregiver, or support group about finding ways to help you manage and live with Parkinson’s.