Long Term Effects

What Will Happen to Me if I Have Parkinson's?

Because Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder, we can generally expect that each year the signs and symptoms of the disease will become more pronounced. No one, not a physician or anyone else, can accurately predict how, or how quickly, the disease will progress in a specific individual.

There simply is no reliable way to evaluate the degree of cell loss in the substantia nigra, no laboratory test or widely available imaging procedure that can tell us how much cell loss has occurred or how fast it is progressing.

Although we do not yet have treatments capable of slowing or arresting the progression of the illness, current treatments can very effectively relieve the symptoms, especially in the early years. Many people who are adequately treated notice very little or no progression of symptoms over the first few years.

With time, a person's degree of motor disability does tend to increase, however, and after five to 10 years of illness the symptoms will disrupt daily life. At this point, medications are needed in higher doses and must be monitored and adjusted more frequently.

Advanced Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder; it continues to get worse. For example, as Parkinson's becomes more advanced, facial movement, blinking and spontaneous smiling and expression all become more difficult, and people have increasing difficulty functioning independently.

However, many people with Parkinson's never reach this stage, because they live a normal life span and continue to receive significant benefit from their anti-parkinson medications.

The following table lists some problems which may occur in advanced Parkinson's disease:

Problem areas in advanced Parkinson's disease

  • Cognitive decline and behavioral problems

  • Communication

  • Difficulty with urination

  • Falls

  • Impaired performance of activities of daily living

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Swallowing

  • Walking and balance problems

  • Weight loss

For more information about the University Physicians Consultation and Referral Service, please call 1-800-492-5538 (patients) or 1-800-373-4111 (physicians).

This page was last updated: May 24, 2013

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