Harvard Women's Health Watch

Medications for Parkinson’s disease

Because the loss of dopamine in the brain is the fundamental problem of Parkinson's disease, treatment is focused on replacing dopamine to help counter the loss of motor function. Dopamine loss is not the only mechanism involved; finding other, still-unknown factors is a major challenge facing researchers. Until we have the answers, however, drug makers will continue to design medications aimed at helping the brain replace the missing dopamine.

When symptoms warrant treatment, your neurologist will consider several types of medications to reduce tremor and ease movements.

Combination levodopa-carbidopa (Sinemet)

Sinemet is the gold standard of treatment for Parkinson's disease. Levodopa is an amino acid that the brain converts into dopamine; it is combined with carbidopa, which does not enter the brain but blocks the enzyme that converts levodopa into dopamine in other parts of the body. Thus it essentially keeps levodopa intact until it reaches the brain. By restricting the release of dopamine in the stomach, carbidopa greatly decreases some of the unpleasant side effects associated with levodopa alone, including nausea and bursts of uncontrollable movements. However, when Sinemet is taken at high doses, it can also cause nausea. Other possible side effects include mental confusion, episodes of low blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and delusions.

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