Busting Some of the Most Common Myths About Parkinson’s Disease

Columnist Mary Beth Skylis shares the facts to set the record straight

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by Mary Beth Skylis |

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I once attended a neurology appointment with my dad, who has Parkinson’s disease. His doctor asked him what dosage of levodopa he’d been taking, and after he responded, she scolded him for not following her directions. I soon discovered that Dad had been taking less levodopa than he’d been prescribed in an attempt to prolong the effectiveness of the drug.

Dad’s neurologist explained that levodopa doesn’t become less effective over time, nor does your body become used to it. Parkinson’s just progresses, requiring a greater amount of the medication to achieve the same results. Additionally, patients may begin to develop symptoms that don’t respond to levodopa.

The doctor was concerned that, in his effort to plan for the future, my dad was preventing himself from receiving the care he needed. She explained that it was OK if his body required a higher dosage of levodopa than before.

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That conversation made me curious about other Parkinson’s myths, so I did some research. Following are several of the most common ones, along with the facts.

Myth: You must have tremors to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

The four characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremor (involuntary muscle contractions), bradykinesia (abnormally slow movements), rigor (stiff or inflexible muscles), and postural instability (difficulty balancing). While tremor is usually one of the first and most obvious indicators of the disease, the Parkinson’s Foundation notes that up to 30% of Parkinson’s patients may never experience the symptom.

It’s also important to note that, while tremor is a common Parkinson’s symptom, it can occur in other conditions as well.

Myth: Parkinson’s only affects movement.

Parkinson’s disease is generally recognized as a movement disorder, due to the four characteristic symptoms listed above. But nonmotor symptoms, including anxiety, dementia, sexual dysfunction, sleeping problems, and depression, are also pervasive among people with this condition, including my dad. For instance, I wrote about his experience with night terrors last December.

Myth: Medication is the only treatment option.

Medication is the most common treatment option for Parkinson’s disease. But healthcare providers may also recommend lifestyle changes, exercise, or even surgery.

Over the course of Dad’s battle with the disease, he has attended Parkinson’s-specific boxing programs, taken medication, and even undergone deep brain stimulation surgery to help him better manage his symptoms. He’s confident that all of these methods have resulted in a better quality of life.

Myth: Parkinson’s disease is fatal.

Parkinson’s disease isn’t directly fatal. However, as an overview on Parkinson’s News Today notes, “it can put substantial strain on the body and make people more vulnerable to life-threatening infections such as pneumonia.” The condition can also increase a person’s fall risk, which can result in potentially fatal accidents.

Have you heard any other myths about Parkinson’s disease? Please share in the comments below.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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