Dr Philippa Kaye On Parkinson’s Disease

Shutterstock © A mature ady hugging her partner, in the kitchen at home

Dr Philippa explains about the symptoms and treatments for Parkinson’s disease…

Like many patients at the moment, I spoke to Martin on the phone to assess if he needed to be seen in person. His wife Belinda was very worried about him and said he was extremely shaky. As the phone consultation went on it became clear that Martin needed to come in to be assessed.

Belinda had noticed Martin seemed to have started to shake all the time. He also sometimes seemed to have difficulties getting up from his chair. He hadn’t noticed, but felt that his walking and other movements were getting slower. This all had very gradually deteriorated over time – Belinda now filled his mug of tea only two thirds full as otherwise his shaking meant he would spill it. Martin found this very frustrating, saying he either spilled it or didn’t get enough and ended up making a second mug!

I asked Martin to get up from the chair and walk to the examination couch. He did seem to move slowly and had a slow, shuffling gait with small steps. When I examined him, his limbs seemed much stiffer and more rigid than usual. He did have a tremor, even when at rest.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

Martin had the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and was referred to see the neurology team at the hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the brain which tends to affect movement. The most common symptoms are slowness of movement, a tremor or involuntary movements and rigidity of the muscles. There can be difficulties both stopping movement and starting it, for example if you sit down at a bus stop you may not be able to get up when the bus arrives, or you may keep marching on the spot when you want to sit down.

Parkinson’s disease can also affect memory and mood, leading to depression and memory loss, as well as dizziness and balance problems which lead to an increased risk of falling, constipation, incontinence and sleep problems.

Parkinson’s is relatively common with approximately 1 in 500 people having the condition, generally starting over the age of 50.

There is damage to the brain meaning that the brain releases less of the chemical dopamine which is involved in movement and the other symptoms of Parkinson’s. At the moment, doctors and scientists do not know what causes this damage that results in the dopamine loss.

Treatments available for Parkinson’s

Initially, if your symptoms are mild you may not need any treatments, though you will be followed up by the hospital team as the symptoms tend to progress with time. If a lack of dopamine is causing the symptoms related to movement, many of the treatments for Parkinson’s disease involve medications which aim to increase the amount of dopamine in the body, the most frequently used medication is called levodopa.

Other treatments such as physiotherapy can be useful, as can occupational therapy, or speech and language therapy if there is difficulty with swallowing. You may require a combination of different medications and sometimes surgery is also offered.

For more information about Parkinson’s disease as well as help, advice and support, please visit the website of the charity Parkinson’s UK or call their free helpline on 0808 800 0303.

Driving and Parkinson’s Disease

Man with hands on steering wheel of car

Pic: Shutterstock

The ability to drive is so important to many of us, it allows us to get around and be independent, to keep functioning as normal. Many patients with Parkinson’s are able to continue to drive for years after a diagnosis.

However, driving is complicated and requires movement of your limbs as well as focusing on lots of different stimuli and the ability to respond quickly. If you can’t do these things you risk putting yourself and other people in danger. As such you must inform the DVLA of your diagnosis. You may have to take a driving assessment or be given a shorter licence.

Advice given in this article and on the My Weekly website and magazines is not meant to replace personalised medical advice from your doctor. If you have any health concerns please see your doctor.

Article written on January 21, 2021; article reviewed and updated on April 10, 2024

Each week we’ll ask Dr Philippa Kaye to talk about a prominent health issue, so look out for more articles in our health and wellbeing section in coming weeks. Read her advice on Shingles, Ovarian Cancer, Endometriosis,  Long Covid and Eating Disorders now.