7 Myths About Parkinson's Disease

  • Nurse and older patient
    Move Beyond These Misconceptions
    Parkinson"s disease affects 1 million people in the United States, with about 60,000 new patients diagnosed every year—and more expected as people live longer and our population ages. Most people have an impression of Parkinson"s as the disease that makes you shake, but there are many other symptoms and facets to the illness. Here"s a look at common misunderstandings about this serious and incurable brain disorder; as always, talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

  • Older patient with doctor
    Myth No. 1: Everybody with Parkinson’s shakes.
    It"s true that shaking or trembling in a limb is often the first sign of Parkinson"s, which is a neurologically based movement disorder. But about a fifth of people with the disease never experience a tremor (and many people with tremor don"t have Parkinson"s). Other common symptoms include slowness of movement; stiff or rigid muscles; and trouble balancing. In later stages, people may have difficulty talking or swallowing due to weakness in their facial and throat muscles and may be unable to stand or walk.

  • Awake at night
    Myth No. 2: Parkinson’s only causes problems with your movement.
    Doctors have found a host of non-motion-related symptoms for Parkinson’s, some of which occur years before the motor difficulties begin. Early signs include constipation, sleep disorders (such as acting out dreams), impairment of the sense of smell, depression, anxiety and blood pressure changes. Cognitive issues, including delusions and hallucinations, can occur in later stages.

  • Young woman
    Myth No. 3: Only old people get Parkinson’s disease.
    Parkinson"s diagnoses go up as people age; in fact, the average age of onset is 60. But it can occur at any age. Some people get it under 20 (this is called juvenile-onset Parkinson"s) and others under 50 (young-onset Parkinson"s). Actor Michael J. Fox and NBA player Brian Grant are examples of people who were diagnosed in their 30s. About 5 to 10% of Parkinson"s patients are diagnosed under age 50.

  • Generations of men
    Myth No. 4: You’re only at risk if it runs in your family.
    About 15 to 25% of Parkinson"s patients have a family member who has had the disease. Doctors are finding that multiple genes and gene mutations appear linked to the disorder. But most patients don"t have a family history. Doctors suspect the disease may be triggered by an interaction between your genes and environmental factors, such as exposure to insecticides and herbicides. Rural living and drinking well water are among many risk factors.

  • Pensive woman
    Myth No. 5: There’s nothing that can be done if you get it.
    While it"s true that right now there is no cure, doctors have a variety of tools to help, ranging from drugs to surgery. (Deep brain stimulation, for example, is helping late-stage patients.) There are also things you can do that can improve your symptoms, such as exercise. And researchers are closing in on targeted medications that may be able to help slow the progression of the disease; a vaccine is also in the works.

  • Man with medicine
    Myth No. 6: Medication can fix all your physical symptoms.
    Medication that restores dopamine (a brain transmitter lost in Parkinson"s) helps most patients with tremor and stiffness, but it can"t fix problems with the way you walk or your overall balance. Some patients may get side effects from the medication that cause other involuntary movements, such as twitches and tics, called dyskinesias.

  • Empty pill bottle
    Myth No. 7: Drugs wear off after five years.
    A commonly used drug for Parkinson"s is levodopa, which can quickly stop tremors and other motor symptoms. Some patients and even some doctors think it only works for about five years and therefore put off taking it until the disease worsens. However, levodopa has been shown to work for many years—decades, even—and to lengthen the lives of those who take it. In later stages of Parkinson"s, people may need to take more of the drug to get relief, and may develop side effects (such as twitching), which may be why this myth has persisted.

7 Myths About Parkinson's Disease

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