Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system that progresses with time. It primarily affects the movement of a person. It develops steadily typically beginning with a slight tremor in one hand. Aside from causing tremor that is the most well-known sign of the disease, it also usually causes stiffness or the slowing of movement. During the early stages, the face may show very little, or no expression at all and the arms may not swing when the affected individual walks. Speech can also become softer or slurred.
Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Here are the general symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Slowing of voluntary movements
- Decreased facial expression and eye blinking
- Monotonous and slurring of speech
- Stooped posture and shuffling gait
- Unsteadying of balance and having a difficult time rising from a sitting position
- Tremors of the hands
- Difficulty swallowing during the later stages
- Light-headedness or dizziness when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
Causes and Risk Factors of Parkinson’s Disease
In people with Parkinson’s disease, specific nerve cells or neurons in the brain steadily break down or die. Most of the symptoms are caused by the loss of neurons that produce dopamine (chemical messengers in the brain). With decreased levels of dopamine, brain activity becomes abnormal which leads to the different signs of the disease.
The main cause is still unknown, but experts believe that several factors play a role like:
- Genetics: Researchers have identified particular mutations of genes that can lead to Parkinson’s disease. However, these are not common except in rare cases where many members of a family have Parkinson’s.
- Environmental Triggers: Although relatively small, certain toxins and environmental factors may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
- Age: Parkinson’s typically begins during middle age or later in life. People usually develop it after the age of 60.
- Heredity: Having close relatives with Parkinson’s increase the chance that a person will develop the disease. The risk is relatively small unless many relatives have Parkinson’s.
- Sex: Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease compared to women.
- Toxic Exposure: Exposure to herbicides and other chemicals slightly increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
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Tests and Diagnosis for Parkinson’s Disease
There is no test that can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. A physician who has undergone training in nervous system conditions called a neurologist will make a diagnosis based on the medical history, signs and symptoms and a physical and neurological examination of the patient. Tests may be ordered for ruling out other conditions that may be causing the different symptoms. The neurologist may also prescribe carbidopa-levodopa that is medication for Parkinson’s disease. Considerable improvement of symptoms with intake of the medication usually confirms a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. In most cases, it takes the time to get a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Treatments and Medications for Parkinson’s Disease
There is still no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but medications can be used to control the different symptoms. In cases wherein it has progressed to the later stages, surgery may be advisable. It is important for the patient to make lifestyle changes that can help slow down the progress of the disease considerably.
Certain drugs can help manage problems with regards to movement and tremor. These medications essentially work by increasing the level of dopamine in the brain. Over time, the benefits of drugs typically decrease although the symptoms can still be controlled fairly. The medications include the following:
- Carbidopa-Levodopa: This is the most effective medication for Parkinson’s disease. It is a natural chemical that goes into the brain then converts into dopamine. However, common side effects of this medication include dizziness, nausea and light-headedness (orthostatic hypotension).
- Dopamine Agonists: These don’t change into dopamine Unlike levodopa, but it instead mimics the effects of dopamine in the brain. It is also not as effective as levodopa when it comes to treating the different symptoms.
- MAO-B Inhibitors: These are used to help in preventing the breakdown of dopamine in the brain by inhibiting the enzyme in the brain called monoamine oxidase B.
- Catehchol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) Inhibitors: This is used for prolonging the effect of levodopa therapy by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down dopamine.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) can be used to reduce advanced Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Electrodes are implanted by a surgeon into a part of the brain. The electrodes are then connected to a generator implanted in the chest area that sends electrical pulses towards the brain that reduce the different symptoms.
Precaution and Self Care for Parkinson ’s disease
If a person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it is important to work closely with a physician to determine the best treatment plan that offers optimal relief from the different symptoms with the least side effects. Lifestyle changes are important when it comes to making living with the disease easier. Healthy eating is important to prevent common problems like constipation. Regular exercise is also important to maintain or improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility. It also helps prevent depression and anxiety that are common problems in people with Parkinson’s.