What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder that affects certain nerve cells in the brain. It affects the way a person moves over time. Individuals have lived for many years with Parkinson's disease, gradually losing movement of their body as well as their emotions. Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder. The process of the impairment of the brain cells is called neurodegeneration.
What causes Parkinson’s?
Parkinson's disease is caused by the deterioration of neurons (or nerve cells) in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. The brain functions normally when these neurons make a vital brain chemical that is called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for conveying signals between the substantia nigra and multiple brain regions for movement in the body and controlling emotions.
The other cause of Parkinson's disease is an individual's genes. Researchers have found particular genetic alterations that can cause Parkinson's disease. However, it is rare to be genetically affected by Parkinson's disease, unless in the case that an individual has many family members affected by Parkinson's disease. Even in this scenario, there is a relatively small risk of the individual being affected by the illness.
The other causes of Parkinson’s disease could include environmental factors, toxins and aging, but they are not scientifically backed as of yet. Researchers are still looking for links between these causes and Parkinson's disease.
The common signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease vary from person to person. Early signs are often so mild that they may go unobserved.
The signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease are:
- Slowed movement: This is also known as bradykinesia. An individual may find their movement to be slow and restricted, thereby reducing the body's movement. Individuals who have bradykinesia will find easy chores difficult and may take more time to finish such daily tasks. An individual will also drag his or her feet while walking, making it hard to move.
- Tremor: This symptom of Parkinson's disease is an involuntary tremor often in an individual's hand, especially when the hand is resting. There is a shaking in the limbs, fingers and hands that occurs during the early stages of Parkinson's disease.
- Speech pattern changes: Individuals who have Parkinson's disease will have trouble talking. Their speech will be slower, quicker, softer, or they will speak with a slur. Differences in the speech pattern will indicate Parkinson's disease, including speaking in a monotone pattern.
- Writing differs: Another symptom of Parkinson's disease is that an individual's writing pattern will be different. Their writing will be slower making it harder to write, and they may write in a small font.
- Muscle rigidity: There will be muscle stiffness anywhere in the body, resulting in pain and low levels of body movement. Individuals will find it hard to move any part of their bodies as the muscle pain will restrict their movement.
- Loss of balance and posture: Individuals will have difficulty in balancing and their posture becomes more bent in a stooped manner.
- Automatic movement decreases: Individuals who have Parkinson's disease will lose their ability to move their body in an automatic, unconscious matter. Easy tasks like blinking and smiling become harder and almost impossible to do automatically.
Can Parkinson's disease be identified early?
There are early warning signs of Parkinson's disease that can help an early diagnosis. Individuals who have more than one of these symptoms and suspect Parkinson's disease will need to consult with their doctors immediately.
The early warning signs include:
- Loss of smell: Individuals will notice that they cannot smell very well despite not having a cold. There are specific foods that individuals who have Parkinson's disease may not be able to smell properly, like bananas and licorice.
- Trouble sleeping: Individuals who have Parkinson's disease will have trouble when they are sleeping. They may fall out of the bed or start moving involuntarily by kicking or punching while they are in deep sleep.
- Constipation: Constipation can be an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease if the individual is otherwise healthy. Regular constipation occurs if an individual does not have enough water or fiber in his or her body. However, if there is chronic constipation, an individual should consult with his or her doctor as it could be from Parkinson's disease.
- Facial movements: A masked face is an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease. This means that an individual will have a serious looking face all the time. Their face may also look depressed, serious or angry even if the individual does not feel that way.
- Dizziness: Regularly feeling dizzy could be a sign of low blood pressure as well, so the individual will need to consult with a doctor to see what is causing the dizziness.
- Fainting: Parkinson's disease can cause an individual to feel faint or faint frequently. If an individual faints or feels faint on a regular basis, he or she needs to consult a doctor.
Exercising on a regular basis can delay further symptoms and slow down the progression of Parkinson's disease. Additionally, regular doctor check-up appointments are important in order to catch Parkinson's disease early on.
How does Parkinson’s progress?
There are five stages in Parkinson's disease. However, Parkinson's disease affects each individual differently and the time of each stage changes from person to person. It is not uncommon for individuals who have Parkinson's disease to skip stages, especially stage one.
The stages of Parkinson's disease are:
- Stage one: The first stage is the mildest stage of Parkinson's disease. The symptoms faced by individuals often go unnoticed as they are mild. Family and friends normally notice that the individual will have slight changes in their behavior. Tremors are the most common symptoms at this stage and the individual may not notice it. There can be poor balance and involuntary facial movements faced by the individual. It is normally on one side of the body.
- Stage two: In the second stage, the symptoms of Parkinson's disease become more noticeable, and it is at this stage that the individual will have moderate Parkinson's disease. The symptoms faced in stage one by the individual become obvious as the individual will have difficulty in walking and moving. Their posture will be more stooped and their speech becomes different and more slurred. Finishing normal tasks become more and more difficult. However, an individual can still live alone although he or she would require some help from time to time.
- Stage three: At this stage, Parkinson's disease becomes more severe as the individual faces more difficulty in doing simple, everyday tasks. There is a decrease in reflexes and a loss of balance faced by the individual. Falling regularly is more common in stage three. An individual with stage three Parkinson's disease will require medication and occupational therapy to help reduce the symptoms.
- Stage four: During this stage individuals will have difficulty to stand and walk without assistance or a walker. The symptoms of Parkinson's disease become severe, and daily tasks are impossible to do. The individual will have drastic reduced mobility and reaction.
- Stage five: The last stage of Parkinson's disease is the most severe. Here, the individuals loses all motor ability and is unable to care for themselves. The individual will require constant care at all times.
Parkinson's disease treatment
There is no specific standard treatment for Parkinson's disease as it varies from person to person. Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, only treated. There are various treatments available ranging from home treatments, medications, surgery, speech therapy, alternative treatments and physical and occupational therapy.
- Parkinson's disease is caused by the deterioration of neurons (or nerve cells) in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra.
- With little help and management patients suffering from Parkinson’s can improve their quality of living.
- The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease vary from person to person and early signs are often very mild that they may go unobserved.