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Diagnosis and Treatment of Parkinson DiseaseA Review

Educational Objective
To review the clinical management of patients with Parkinson disease.
1 Credit CME

Importance  Parkinson disease is the most common form of parkinsonism, a group of neurological disorders with Parkinson disease–like movement problems such as rigidity, slowness, and tremor. More than 6 million individuals worldwide have Parkinson disease.

Observations  Diagnosis of Parkinson disease is based on history and examination. History can include prodromal features (eg, rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, hyposmia, constipation), characteristic movement difficulty (eg, tremor, stiffness, slowness), and psychological or cognitive problems (eg, cognitive decline, depression, anxiety). Examination typically demonstrates bradykinesia with tremor, rigidity, or both. Dopamine transporter single-photon emission computed tomography can improve the accuracy of diagnosis when the presence of parkinsonism is uncertain. Parkinson disease has multiple disease variants with different prognoses. Individuals with a diffuse malignant subtype (9%-16% of individuals with Parkinson disease) have prominent early motor and nonmotor symptoms, poor response to medication, and faster disease progression. Individuals with mild motor-predominant Parkinson disease (49%-53% of individuals with Parkinson disease) have mild symptoms, a good response to dopaminergic medications (eg, carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine agonists), and slower disease progression. Other individuals have an intermediate subtype. For all patients with Parkinson disease, treatment is symptomatic, focused on improvement in motor (eg, tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia) and nonmotor (eg, constipation, cognition, mood, sleep) signs and symptoms. No disease-modifying pharmacologic treatments are available. Dopamine-based therapies typically help initial motor symptoms. Nonmotor symptoms require nondopaminergic approaches (eg, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for psychiatric symptoms, cholinesterase inhibitors for cognition). Rehabilitative therapy and exercise complement pharmacologic treatments. Individuals experiencing complications, such as worsening symptoms and functional impairment when a medication dose wears off (“off periods”), medication-resistant tremor, and dyskinesias, benefit from advanced treatments such as therapy with levodopa-carbidopa enteral suspension or deep brain stimulation. Palliative care is part of Parkinson disease management.

Conclusions and Relevance  Parkinson disease is a heterogeneous disease with rapidly and slowly progressive forms. Treatment involves pharmacologic approaches (typically with levodopa preparations prescribed with or without other medications) and nonpharmacologic approaches (such as exercise and physical, occupational, and speech therapies). Approaches such as deep brain stimulation and treatment with levodopa-carbidopa enteral suspension can help individuals with medication-resistant tremor, worsening symptoms when the medication wears off, and dyskinesias.

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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.

Article Information

Corresponding Author: Melissa J. Armstrong, MD, MSc, McKnight Brain Institute, Department of Neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine, PO Box 100236, Gainesville, FL 32610 (melissa.armstrong@neurology.ufl.edu).

Accepted for Publication: December 27, 2019.

Author Contributions: Dr Armstrong had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Both authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Both authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Armstrong.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Both authors.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Okun.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Armstrong reported receipt of personal fees from the American Academy of Neurology (consultancy services); grants from the Lewy Body Dementia Association and the Michael J. Fox Foundation; funding from the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality; and other from Oxford University Press (royalties) outside the submitted work. Dr Okun reported receipt of grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Tourette Association of America, and the Parkinson's Foundation outside the submitted work; serving as the medical director for the Parkinson's Foundation; receipt or royalties from Demos Medical Publishing, Manson Publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, Books4Patients, Perseus, Robert Rose, Oxford University Press, and Cambridge University Press (movement disorders books); serving as associate editor for the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch Neurology; and participating in continuing medical education and educational activities on movement disorders sponsored by the Academy for Healthcare Learning, PeerView, Prime, QuantiaMD, WebMD/Medscape, Medicus, MedNet, Einstein, MedNet, Henry Stewart, American Academy of Neurology, Movement Disorders Society, and Vanderbilt University.

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