Did you know… Parkinson’s Disease

The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be different for everyone. Both men and women can have Parkinson’s disease. However, 50% more men are affected by the disease than women. Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine which controls movement become impaired or die. When these nerve cells die or become impaired, they produce less dopamine, which causes movement problems of Parkinson’s. Scientists still do not know what causes these cells to die.  Early signs of Parkinson’s may be mild and go unnoticed. In the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, your face may show little or no expression. Your arms may not swing when you walk, your speech may become soft or slurred. Your balance and coordination can be impaired and falls can occur. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

Parkinson’s disease has four main symptoms:

  • Tremors (trembling) in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
  • Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls

Other symptoms may include depression and memory difficulties; fatigue; difficulty swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems, constipation, skin problems, and sleep disorders. People often develop a parkinsonian gait that includes a tendency to lean forward with small quick steps as if hurrying forward. The rate of progression of symptoms among people vary. Sometimes people dismiss early symptoms as normal aging. In most cases, there are no medical tests to definitively detect the disease, so it can be difficult to diagnose. A number of disorders can also cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. It is important to get an exact diagnosis as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Researchers have noticed there are changes occurring in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease and it is not clear why. Some of these changes include the presence of Lewy bodies.

There are some risk factors for Parkinson’s disease which include:

  • Age – young adults rarely experience Parkinson’s disease. The disease usually begins in middle to late life & the risk increases with age. The disease usually develops around age 60 or older.
  • Heredity – having many close relatives with Parkinson’s disease increases the chance of developing the disease
  • Sex – Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than are women
  • Exposure to toxins -Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may slightly increase your risk.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But there are medicines, surgical treatments, and other therapies that can often relieve symptoms. One of the main medications for Parkinson’s is Levodopa (L-dopa). Nerve cells use levodopa to make dopamine and dopamine is an important brain chemical that affects movement.

For people with Parkinson’s who do not respond well to medications, deep brain stimulation, or DBS may be appropriate. DBS is a surgical procedure that implants electrodes into part of the brain. The electrodes painlessly stimulate the brain and help stop many of the movement-related symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Other therapies include physical, occupational, and speech therapies which help with walking, balance, tremors and rigidity, activities of daily living, and swallowing and voice disorders. Other supportive therapies include a healthy diet and exercises to strengthen muscles and improve balance. Consult with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about Parkinson’s Disease refer to:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (www.ninds.nih.gov)

Michael J Fox Foundations for Parkinson’s Research (www.michaeljfox.org)

Parkinson’s Foundation (www.parkinson.org)