Initial treatment of parkinson's disease

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Opinion statementInitial treatment of early idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD) begins with diagnosis based on clinical evaluation supplemented by laboratory studies and brain imaging to exclude causes of secondary parkinsonism. In most cases, testing is normal and the diagnosis of PD rests on clinical criteria. In patients with mild symptoms and signs, the diagnosis of PD may not initially be apparent, and follow-up evaluation is needed to arrive at a diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is made, pharmacologic treatment may not be the first step. First, patient education is essential, especially because PD is a highprofile disease for which information and misinformation are readily available to patients and families. Counseling concerning prognosis, future symptoms, future disability, and treatment must be provided. Questions from patients concerning diet, lifestyle, and exercise are especially common at this point. The decision of when to initiate treatment is the next major consideration. Much controversy but relatively little light has been brought to bear on this issue. L-dopa was the first major antiparkinson medication to be introduced and remains the “gold standard” of treatment. Next in efficacy are the dopamine agonists (DAs). A debate has raged concerning whether initial dopaminergic treatment should be with L-dopa or DAs. Physicians have been concerned about forestalling the appearance of dyskinesias and motor fluctuations, whereas patients have incorrectly understood that L-dopa and possibly other antiparkinson drugs have a finite duration of usefulness, making it important to defer treatment for as long as possible. This has created “L-dopa phobia,” which may stand in the way of useful treatment. In spite of this controversy, there is uniform agreement that the appropriate time to treat is when the patient is beginning to be disabled. This varies from patient to patient and depends on age, employment status, nature of job, level of physical activity, concern about appearance, and other factors. The choice of a specific drug is sometimes dictated by the patient's symptoms. For example, L-dopa is preferable for severe akinesia, an anticholinergic may be useful when tremor is the most prominent symptom (especially in those aged younger than 70 years), and DAs may be indicated for younger patients, more prone to dyskinesias and fluctuations, with relatively mild symptoms. It is also important to manage non-motor symptoms in patients with early PD. Anxiety and depression are particularly common at this stage and may be presenting symptoms of PD. Where appropriate, counseling and/or treatment with anxiolytics and antidepressants should be considered.

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