Managing the Side Effects of Parkinson’s Disease

managing side effects

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease. It starts slowly, often with a minor tremor. But over time, the disease will affect everything from your speech to your gait to your cognitive abilities. While treatments are becoming more advanced, there’s still no cure for the disease. An important part of a successful Parkinson’s treatment plan is recognizing and managing secondary symptoms — those that affect your day-to-day life.

Here are a few of the more common secondary symptoms and what you can do to help manage them.


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Depression among people with Parkinson’s disease is quite common. In fact, by some estimates at least 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease will experience depression. Facing the reality that your body and life will never be the same can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, worrying, or loss of interest.

It’s imperative that you talk with a doctor or licensed psychologist if you think you may be struggling with depression. Depression can usually be treated successfully with antidepressant medications.

Difficulty Sleeping

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More than 75 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease report sleep problems. You may experience restless sleep, where you wake up frequently during the night. You may also experience sleep attacks, or episodes of sudden sleep onset, during the day. Talk with your doctor about taking an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid to help you regulate your sleep.

Constipation and Digestive Issues

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As Parkinson’s disease progresses, your digestive tract will slow down and function less efficiently. This lack of movement may lead to increased bowel irritability and constipation.

In addition, certain medications often prescribed to patients with Parkinson’s disease, such as anticholinergics, can cause constipation. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains is a good first step remedy. Fresh produce and whole grains also contain a great deal of fiber, which can help prevent constipation. Fiber supplements and powders are also an option for many Parkinson’s patients.

Be sure to ask your doctor how to gradually add fiber powder to your diet. This will ensure you don’t have too much too quickly and make your constipation worse.

Urinary Problems

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Just as your digestive tract may become weaker, so can the muscles of your urinary tract system. Parkinson’s disease and medications prescribed for treatment can cause your autonomic nervous system to stop functioning properly. When that happens, you may begin experiencing urinary incontinence or difficulty urinating.

Difficulty Eating

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In the later stages of the disease, the muscles in your throat and mouth may work less efficiently. This can make chewing and swallowing difficult. It can also increase the likelihood of drooling or choking while eating. Fear of choking and other eating problems may put you at risk for inadequate nutrition. However, working with an occupational therapist or speech-language therapist may help you regain some control of your facial muscles.

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