Is delaying drug treatments for Parkinson's right for me?

When you’re diagnosed with Parkinson’s, your specialist may recommend you start medication to manage your symptoms. But together, you might choose to wait until your symptoms cause you more problems.

We find out more from Linda Moss, a Parkinson’s nurse.

Why might someone choose to delay taking medication?

If you have mild Parkinson's symptoms that aren't affecting your day-to-day life, you may decide not to start treatment immediately.

Your specialist will consider the impact your symptoms are having on you – age is less of a factor. For example, if your symptoms are impacting your daily life, your specialist may recommend you start medication. If you have very mild symptoms, you and your specialist may agree to wait until symptoms become more difficult.

Some people may not want to start taking medication because of the potential side effects. If you take levodopa (the main drug used for Parkinson’s) for a long time, you might start to develop side effects, such as involuntary movements (dyskinesia). But not everyone will experience severe problems and medication can usually be adjusted to minimise them.

Sometimes starting medication immediately can be helpful. If your specialist isn’t sure whether you have Parkinson’s, they may suggest medication to see how your symptoms respond. Drug treatments can then help determine a diagnosis.

Parkinson’s symptoms can improve with medication. This is why it’s important that delaying treatment should be a joint decision made between you and your specialist.

What does the research say?

Research has shown that levodopa doesn't slow the progression of Parkinson’s. But it can have positive effects on symptoms. Current research is aiming to understand whether early drug treatment for Parkinson’s is helpful.

So there is still more work to be done before researchers can say if Parkinson’s drugs have any effect on how quickly Parkinson’s can progress.

How else can I manage my Parkinson's?

Drug treatments are the main way to manage Parkinson’s symptoms but other things can help.

Physical activity and exercise is good for everyone and it is especially good for you if you have Parkinson’s. The type of exercise you choose depends on the way Parkinson’s affects you. But there is something for everyone. 

Therapies can also help by focusing on a specific issue you may have. The three main types of therapy are:

When is the right time to start medication?

If your symptoms begin to have an effect on your day-to-day life, it might be time to start thinking about taking medication. This impact might be on how well you can move, or if you're able to get out and about socially.

If you become stiffer and are losing muscle, it can be difficult to turn back the clock. It may be easier if you're younger. But the risk of delaying treatment is that your condition will progress and your symptoms will get worse. 

Starting on medication can mean keeping things better for longer.

I’m worried I will develop side effects if I start taking medication. What should I do?

It’s natural to worry about side effects. It’s good to be informed, but don’t dwell on them. Your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse will always talk to you about the main ones, such as dyskinesia and impulsive and compulsive behaviours at your appointments.

If you start medication and do start developing side effects, you should talk to your specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. They can come up with a plan for you to come off the medication slowly and consider a different option.