” anti-anxiety pills, I would take them but I am afraid …”
Anxiety also thought of as excessive worrying is something that I have had lots of experience in dealing with as a physician and caregiver but until my medications were reduced after last hospitalization, I myself had never felt this way. I am not a fan.
As it turns out nearly 20% of people with pd experience these symptoms during the life of the disease. Fortunately, this is one of those symptoms which is extremely treatable since we have a slew of med. unfortunately, it is often misdiagnosed or overlooked causing severe mental and physical anguish.
We have recognized anxiety as a non-motor symptom of PD not simply a reaction to having disease. As we learn more about Parkinson’s we realize that anxiety can be a presenting symptom and even precede motor signs and symptoms by many years.
There are several presentations of anxiety. The most common is general anxiety where a person becomes overly concerned with things around him or her like when is the next doctor appointment, or lunch meeting. You may feel like passing out, have gloom and doom feelings, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness, chest pain, numbness and tingling or pins and needles. They may even cause spontaneous crying, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing ..tightness in throat.
I must say that this is the form most often encountered by me in my patients. however, i now know that I failed at times to treat the underlying cause. I recall a sweet older patient who began having ‘on’ and ‘off’ periods would over dose on Sinemet each time she had an ‘off’ period due to the severe anxiety only to aggravate her dyskenisias. Not really understanding that what she needed was more dopa medication more evenly spread out to stop the ‘off and assuming this was unrelated to her dopamine levels I prescribed Ativan ( anti-anxiety medication) but quickly she began popping these pills like candy in some ways making her anxiety worse by severely compromising her respiration. Until I had this similar problem several months ago, I did not fully comprehend the severity of the problem, the incredibly overwhelming feeling of lack of control and feeling of being consumed by this emotion as well. I understand how people that take drugs are constantly after a next “fix.” You simply want to feel normal or at least that feeling of lack of control, and complete incapacitating nervousness to cease.
Since, I was placed on a much lower medication dosage than I was used to, the lower doses were not lasting as I was used to without feeling gaps. Now, I was experiencing on and off symptoms and found myself completely absorbed in my day to simply waiting for the next dose. This was completely foreign to me in the decade I have had pd I have never had to set my watch by my meds. Because I am well controlled and have several long acting meds, I don’t feel the gaps and certainly don’t go into panic mode if I am a bit late taking medicine or forget. I do however, get stiff, slower and stat having pain or visual problems if I forget completely. Yet, here I was like a drug addict counting hours and constantly looking at the clock to see if it was time to take my next pill. No way to live!
So, I decided to deal with the side effects of my meds from a different angle and stop this madness which lasted less than two weeks but felt like an eternity. I restarted my medications at previous doses and voila! No more anxiety. I could breath again normally and actually be productive once more. This of course, thought me a huge lesson, realizing that in my practice as well as many patients out there that complain of anxiety or difficulty breathing are actually undermedicated. They don’t need anti anxiety meds they simply need higher doses of dopa that is continuous and not fluctuating.
This is because the symptoms are extensive and can mimic many other illnesses including, thyroid disease, low blood sugar, heart attack, and asthma doctors may want to do other tests to rule out these more serious and potentially lethal diseases. However, the best way to properly diagnose and get the right treatment is to maintain a diary.
Once source correctly identified a new regimen can be implemented. In most cases of anxiety in people with Parkinson’s are due to under medication in my experience – thus the solution is to increase levels of L- dopa either more frequent dosing, larger doses or both.
However, once all other possible causes are ruled out and not improving with higher dopa levels, anti -anxiety meds in the benzodiazepine class are implemented (e.g. Ativan or klonopin). Also Ssri’s anti-depressants like lexapro, Zoloft, or SnRI’s such as Effexor, Cymbalta, or Remeron can be prescribed. Even behavioral therapy might be considered if symptoms are not subsiding along with antipsychotics preferably those like Seroquel, Clozaril maybe given without worsening PD; perhaps even the new drug Nuplazid could be instituted although no data available at present time.
Don’t suffer in silence get help if you are having anxiety particularly if altering your life style or causing severe physical and emotional impediments. fortunately, I am back to myself not looking at watch every 5 minutes waiting to take next dose…so that I could regain some temporary sanity.