Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is tricky. There is no “test” to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Doctors depend on their powers of observation and the elimination of other diseases to diagnose Parkinson’s. When a diagnosis of Parkinson’s is given, it is confirmed by prescribing levodopa or a dopamine agonist. If the symptoms respond to the medication, then the Parkinson’s diagnosis is confirmed. I began taking Requip XL (a dopamine agonist) at a low dosage and saw a response in my symptoms. With Requip, you have to step up your dosage until you reach the level that’s right for you. As I increased my dosage to the level my doctor thought was optimal, my symptoms practically disappeared. My tremor was gone for the most part (as the medication would wear off, it would start to come back). I actually had bladder control (something I had not had in years and didn’t even realized was possible). We even took a trip where I rode in the car for 5 hours straight without a single stop to use the bathroom. Anyone who has taken a trip with me in the last 10 years will tell you that is practically a miracle!
Of course, with Requip came side effects. The medicine made me tired in a different way than Parkinson’s did. It can cause “uncontrollable sleepiness.” People have fallen asleep while driving, eating, etc. I referred to it as “waves of exhaustion.” It would come over me very suddenly and I could fall asleep at my desk at work with my head in my hands. Before taking Requip, I would sometimes come home from work and crash – literally climb in bed and fall asleep at 5:30 in the afternoon. When I first started taking Requip, I was sometimes still doing that. I didn’t consider that much of a life improvement. It also made me sick to my stomach. I learned that I could eat a certain foods when taking my Requip and that would help with the nausea. The sleepiness faded somewhat over time, but I still dealt with some of those "waves of exhaustion" right after taking my medicine.
It was also very expensive. Okay, so that’s not really a side effect, really, but with the other medication called Azilect that I was placed on to try and prevent the progression of Parkinson’s disease, the expenses were starting to really add up. I’m not completely cheap, but I really didn’t like that we were spending more on my medicine each month than we were on our car payment.
But I was symptom free while on Requip. With the exception of the sleepiness, which was extremely annoying, the Requip did help, even with symptoms that I wouldn’t have recognized as symptoms, such as my recent tendency to cry over the slightest thing. I’m not a crier, so this was new and frustrating for me (and those around me!). One of the things dopamine does is make you feel good. When you feel good after eating something wonderful or having sex, that’s dopamine being released in your brain. Not having enough dopamine can make you feel sad and depressed at times. So in addition to relieving my other symptoms. Requip gave me back some dopamine and made me feel better. It wasn’t like taking a happy pill or anything. I just felt more like myself. That was definitely a good thing.
The worst thing about taking Requip was what it represented. The fact that my symptoms decreased or went away while I was on the medicine meant that I did indeed have Parkinson’s disease. When my neurologist saw the improvement in all of my symptoms, he said there was no way to fight it anymore and that I definitely had Parkinson’s disease.
You can read about my quest for a diagnosis here.