Parkinson’s Disease: It Isn't Easy
Tony led a normal life just like many of us. He was approaching his fifth to sixth decade, and he was the head of an engineering department--capable of making decisions and recalling those decisions. But suddenly, communication with his wife and children was becoming a challenge. His conditions baffled doctors and he was behaving differently. He could not continue working, so he took an early retirement. Shortly after diagnosis, Tony became depressed. Parkinson's disease affects the nerve cells found in the brain.
The nerve cells are responsible for the production of dopamine. Dopamine is a kind of neurotransmitter, which assists the brain in detecting pleasure. It is also responsible for regulating movement besides helping us respond to our emotions. Tony’s family remained very supportive, despite how difficult it became at times. They helped Tony get to different doctors to seek treatment, and eventually, they found a doctor and treatment plan that was right for him.
Parkinson’s disease or PD is a chronic and progressive type of movement disorder. It means that the symptoms of this disease tend to worsen as time passes. The exact cause of this disease is still not known and also there is no cure for it. However, there are multiple treatment options available, which can help manage the symptoms to a large extent.
Parkinson’s disease usually involves the death or malfunction of the nerve cells that are vital in the brain. These cells are called neurons. Primarily, Parkinson's disease affects these neurons in an area of the brain called as the substantia nigra. A few of these dying neurons produce dopamine, which is a chemical that sends messages to the brain for controlling movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine that gets produced in the brain starts decreasing, thereby leaving the person unable to control its own movement in a normal manner.
What are the causes of Parkinson’s disease?
As mentioned earlier, PD is caused by the progressive impairment of the neurons in the brain, which causes lack of communication to the brain. This lack of communication leads to the loss of ability to control body movement. However, it is still not known as to what causes the neurons to diminish or become impaired.
There are pieces of evidence showing that Parkinson’s disease is mostly inherited, which means that it is genetically passed from the family members who were earlier affected with this disease. There are still controversies surrounding the possibility of genes being the cause of Parkinson's disease. Genetic abnormalities in a small number of families have been identified as the cause of the illness. But in a vast majority of PD cases, people do not show signs of genetic abnormalities.
Studies have shown that people who have developed the disease early in life have shown signs of genetic involvement. There are still unclear studies of the disease's implications on the children of those people who have been affected by this disease. Certain findings also say that specific environmental toxins are also responsible for the disease.
External or internal toxins are known to destroy dopamine, thereby causing Parkinson’s disease. Toxins such as carbon disulfide, manganese, and carbon monoxide are all said to be linked with Parkinson’s disease. Certain pesticides are also known to be linked with the disease.
Oxidative stress is also said to be related to the cause of Parkinson’s disease. Oxidation is a process in which free radicals react with other molecules such as iron in an attempt to replace the missing electrons. These free radicals are usually found in the body and brain. However, the brain and body also have the mechanisms to get rid of them.
For individuals who are affected with Parkinson’s disease, such mechanism is not that effective or in some instances, they may produce too many free radicals. There is also a possibility that environmental toxins can also contribute to the formation of abnormal free radicals, which then lead to Parkinson’s disease. Oxidation is also thought to be causing damage to the tissues, which also includes the neurons. In many of the cases, antioxidants are known to protect these cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
There is no clear evidence on what causes the events of abnormal nerve function linked to Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown certain medications or conditions that can cause the occurrence of the symptoms, which are similar to the ones in Parkinson’s disease.
- Street drugs: A synthetic heroin contaminant called as MPTP is also known to cause symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s disease.
- Medications: Certain drugs such as antipsychotics are used to treat other mental conditions including schizophrenia or paranoia. These medications can also lead to symptoms, which are quite similar to Parkinson’s disease.
- Blood vessel disorder: Atherosclerosis ( hardening of the arteries) and stroke also cause symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s disease.
- Shy-Drager syndrome: The Shy-Drager syndrome is one of the rarest deteriorating conditions, which can also lead to symptoms that resemble Parkinson’s disease.
There are some studies that reveal that a combination of the above-mentioned factors can also act as the main cause of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Let us take a look at the symptoms of this disease so that we can understand clearly how the different forms of treatment normally work. The symptoms may vary from person-to-person, and they change as the disease progresses in an individual. The most common age of onset is around 50 to 60 years old. It can go unnoticed if the people around the patient are not keen enough to identify the symptoms. The most common symptom of Parkinson's disease is the display of tremors.
- Tremors - are signified by the shaking of the arm or leg. You can easily notice this symptom when someone is reaching for something or they are simply resting. Tremors that occur when the patient is at rest are called as "resting tremors".
- Stiff or aching muscles - you can easily notice when an individual reduces the swing in his or her arm when walking. This symptom is caused by the muscles becoming rigid, thereby causing simple activities such as walking or any slight movement to be painful.
- Slow and limited movement - when you have PD, it gets difficult to move swiftly. The body's muscles do not respond as fast as they should when you try to move.
- Weakness of the throat and facial muscles - Parkinson's disease affects a person's speech caused by the weakening of the throat muscles. It suddenly becomes difficult to talk or swallow food. The patient also gets a fixed stare due to the lack of movement in the facial muscles.
- Lack of balance and movement difficulties - due to the rigidity and aching of the muscles, the person will start experiencing difficulties when moving, and start moving by taking small steps. People with Parkinson's disease can also experience difficulties when turning around.
- Freezing - a person with PD will once in a while become unable to move completely but it just happens momentarily.
Because the signs Parkinson's disease are as a result of dopamine deficiency in the brain, most treatments include drugs that mimic the action of dopamine or work towards reloading dopamine.
Methods of Controlling and Treating Parkinson's Disease
There are three methods to treat Parkinson's disease. Your doctor will explain to you the best method depending on the extent of the disease. Therefore, treatment can also vary from one patient to another. The following are treatment methods for Parkinson's disease:
- Drug treatments
Let’s get started.
For starters, you have various kinds of therapies that will help you cope with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. One of the therapists you should visit is an occupational therapist.
An occupational therapist will help you in such ways wherein you can handle difficult tasks with ease. This is the point where the therapist tries to ease the difficulty you are experiencing by giving you strategies on how to handle and cope with future tasks.
A physiotherapist will have a look at how the disease is affecting your mobility and ability to carry out different tasks. The physiotherapist will help keep you fit and helps you maintain your balance. This therapy extends even to your family and friends because they have to help you during the course of your treatment.
Speech and language therapist
This type of therapy should start at the onset of the disease. The therapist will help you maintain most of your communication ability. The therapist will also help you in dealing with your eating problems and coping with different environments (noisy or silent). As the disease progresses, the therapist will suggest ways and tools to help you cope with the disease.
This type of therapy is used hand in hand with medical treatment. This therapy is mainly aimed at correcting the problems, which are inducing the symptoms. This therapy focuses on treating the patient wholly rather than just dealing with the symptoms.
Drugs improve the quality of life of a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, the choice of medication determines the long-term path of the illness. If you suspect that what you have is Parkinson's disease, you should consult with your neurologist first before taking any kind of drug. You also have to look for movement disorder specialists. What drugs do is enhance the amount of dopamine in the brain, so that the brain can function normally. Medications only control the symptoms of this disease but do not cure it. Each patient has his or her own form of medication depending on the symptoms and progress of the disease. This means that you will have to work with your doctor so that he or she can determine the best drug to use. Medication is not the only treatment plan for dealing with Parkinson's disease. Remember to have a diet plan and exercise, too.
What drugs do is enhance the amount of dopamine in the brain, so that the brain can function normally. Medications only control the symptoms of this disease but do not cure it. Each patient has his or her own form of medication depending on the symptoms and progress of the disease. This means that you will have to work with your doctor so that he or she can determine the best drug to use. Medication is not the only treatment plan for dealing with Parkinson's disease. Remember to have a diet plan and exercise, too.
Some drugs include:
- Levodopa – the body metabolizes levodopa to get dopamine. You can take a combination commercially called as Sinemet (carbidopa levodopa) to suppress side effects like nausea. Taking Levodopa with vitamins or foods containing B6 interferes with its efficacy.
- Dopamine agonists – are classes of drugs that imitate the activity of dopamine in your brain. You can use them alone or take them with L-Dopa. Dopamine agonists are stellar options for treating the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Examples of dopamine agonists are pramipexole and ropinirole.
Drugs may have some side effects such as impulsive and compulsive behavior like gambling, obsessive shopping, or binge eating. Other side effects include visual hallucinations, swelling of the ankles, and sleepiness.
Surgery should be the last resort. As the disease progresses, a patient develops major motor fluctuations and medications may not be able to alleviate the condition. But there’s one small catch--you might still need the medication even after undergoing surgery. Most importantly, understand the procedure, potential risks involved, and benefits. The surgical procedures for Parkinson’s disease are brain lesioning surgeries called as thalamotomy and pallidotomy. Another type of surgery for this disease is deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS does not destroy the brain tissue, but reversibly alters the function. The only problem is that it is complicated to perform and demands patience. Ask as many questions as possible during your appointment with your doctor about the surgery.
Best Foods During the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
It is very important for a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease to have a meal that consists of whole and nutrient-dense foods, which include fresh organic fruits, meat of high quality, and vegetables. Processed foods should be out of the diet. Below are certain foods, which can be included in the diet:
- Foods rich in high fiber: Parkinson’s patients often complain of constipation. Hence, fiber-rich food must be included daily in one's diet. Moreover, one should stay well-hydrated so bowel functions will improve.
- Omega-3 food: Omega-3 intake should be increased. It helps elevate the dopamine levels along with reducing inflammation. One should focus on consuming seafood several times a week, including nuts and seeds in the diet chart.
- Healthy fats: The consumption of healthy fats can support good neurological health and also helps prevent bad moods. Foods such as coconut, sprouted nuts, walnuts, and flaxseeds are very good to eat.
- Green tea: Green tea is known to contain polyphenol antioxidants, which help fight free radicals. Green tea also contains theanine, which also elevates the levels of dopamine in the brain. One should drink at least three cups of green tea a day to reap its long-term benefits.
Worse Foods for Parkinson’s Patients
- Processed foods: One should avoid foods that contain toxins and additives as they can worsen the disease. If such foods are prevented at an early age, then it can lower the risk of other illnesses in the future.
- Too much protein: Too much protein in the diet is also not good. Hence, people with Parkinson's disease must limit their protein intake.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is known to disrupt an individual's neurological functioning and complicates mood changes. Thus, alcohol consumption must be avoided.
- Artificial sweeteners or sugary products: Such foods are known to act as toxins for a Parkinson’s patient and can worsen the condition.
One thing’s for sure, for every person suffering from Parkinson's disease, the experience is unique. Thus, try different drugs, therapies, and other treatments to see what works best for you. The treatments mentioned above will help patients control their symptoms. Even though there is no guarantee or scientific proof that a certain treatment or therapy will stop or reverse Parkinson’s disease from progressing, there are quite a number of people having positive experiences with the complementary therapies.
There has not been any known prevention or cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are a number of therapies or medications that can make living with the disease a bit easier.