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Conditions Related to Parkinson's

No two people have the same Parkinson’s disease (PD). With diverse symptoms and varied speeds of progression, PD does not affect every person the same way. However, people with Parkinson’s are at greater risk of developing related conditions. Developing these conditions is not a certainty, only a possibility. Knowing of them can help a person with PD or their loved one recognize associated symptoms and practice preventative measures or lifestyle changes to allow for a better life. 

People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have a higher risk of developing:

Melanoma

Melanoma is an invasive form of skin cancer that has been found to develop more often in people with Parkinson’s. Knowing how to spot melanoma and following preventative measures can help people with PD decrease their risk of developing skin cancer. Early detection of melanoma means a better chance of stopping cancer from progressing to lymph nodes and can result in a nearly 100 percent cure rate. In addition to PD, other risk factors for developing melanoma are: male gender, Caucasian race, constant exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and family history of melanoma. 

The following preventative measures can help reduce chances of developing melanoma: 

  • Use the melanoma ABCDE's to monitor irregularities in moles and beauty marks: 

Asymmetrical

Borders are uneven or irregular

Colors such as many shades of brown within the same mole, or even red or blue

Diameter bigger than the eraser on a pencil

Evolution – grows over time

  • Wear sunscreen and UV protective clothing daily.
  • Schedule a yearly screening with a dermatologist.

Neurogenic Orthostatic Hypotension (nOH)

Orthostatic hypotension (OH) is a persistent drop in blood pressure that occurs within three minutes of standing. Certain medications, dehydration and conditions such as heart disease increase the risk of developing OH. Damage caused by nervous system disorders, such as PD, can result in the nervous system not being able to make or release norepinephrine — a chemical that allows blood vessels to tighten or constrict, which raises blood pressure and brings blood to the brain. Without this chemical not enough blood reaches the brain, resulting in dizziness or lightheadedness. When OH happens in people with Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders, it is called neurogenic OH (nOH). Orthostatic hypotension is common in PD, affecting 15-50% of people with Parkinson’s. Learn more about nOH at nOHmatters.com.  

The following lifestyle strategies can help manage nOH:

  • Speak with your doctor about reducing or eliminating certain medications (such as antihypertensives and some dopaminergics) that can make nOH worse.
  • Drink more fluids to keep hydrated. 
  • Consume more salt and caffeine. 
  • Wear thigh-high support stockings to allow for better blood circulation. 
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Sleep with your head elevated between 10 and 30 degrees. 
  • Ask your doctor about medications that can treat nOH

Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA)

Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is characterized by frequent, uncontrollable outbursts of crying or laughing. Outbursts can be intense and often do not match the situation or the way the person is actually feeling. Episodes last seconds to minutes and may occur several times per day. PBA occurs when Parkinson’s or another neurologic condition affects the areas of the brain that controls expression of emotion, disrupting brain signaling and triggering the involuntary episodes. PBA is often mistaken for depression or bipolar disorder. PBA used to be referred to as “emotional incontinence” or “pathological laughing and crying.” These terms are not commonly used today because researchers better understand the brain and PBA symptoms. Pseudobulbar affect can also occur in people with brain injuries. According to PBA Facts, up to 25% of people with Parkinson’s develop PBA. 

The following lifestyle strategies can help manage pseudobulbar affect:

  • Keep a diary tracking what triggers PBA episodes and share it with your doctor. 
  • If you feel like you are about to have an episode try to focus on something unrelated and adjust your posture.
  • During an episode take slow deep breaths until you are in control while trying to relax your forehead, shoulders, and body.

NPF would like to acknowledge USF Health for contributions to this page. Credit: Lucy Guerra, MD, MPH, FACP, FHM, and Nupur Patel