Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that primarily affects movement. It is a progressive disorder that sometimes starts with light tremors in one hand. Tremors may be the most common sign of the disease, but those with Parkinson’s also experience stiffness and slowing of body movement.
Early stages are typically characterized by light tremors, face that shows little to no expression at all, and the arms not swinging when you walk. The way you speak will noticeably become soft and slurred.
The symptoms become worse as the disorder progresses and while it can’t be cured, certain medications are available to improve your symptoms. In rare cases, surgery is advised in order to regulate certain brain regions.
There are various symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. One person may feel a certain sign while the others may feel another. Most people do not notice the signs during the early stages of the disease. The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually include:
Tremor. Tremor, or shaking, typically starts in one limb. On the earliest onset of the disorder, the pill-rolling tremor, or the back-and-forth rubbing of two fingers, can be noted. You are more likely to experience tremor when the hand is at rest.
Slowed movement. Bradykinesia or slowing of movement is also a tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s disease. Over time, you will notice that your steps are shorter and as if you are dragging your feet as you walk.
Rigid muscles. This sign may be present on any part of the body. With stiff muscles, you may feel pain and experience a limited range of motion.
Impaired posture and balance. Parkinson’s disease gives you a stooped posture and balance problems.
Loss of automatic movements. The disease limits your ability to move automatically. The swinging of the arms when walking, blinking, and even smiling become significantly limited.
Speech changes. Problems in speech are usual issues with Parkinson’s disease. You may experience having to speak too slowly or quickly, or quite slurry or you even hesitate before talking. The inflections are gone and your speech will become more of a monotone.
Writing changes. Your handwriting appears smaller and you will notice that it is getting more and more difficult to do the task.
The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown.
Parkinson’s disease takes place when certain neurons or nerve cells in the brain gradually die. Most symptoms manifest because of the loss of neurons, which produce dopamine, a vital chemical in the brain. A decreased level of dopamine causes abnormal brain activity that can lead to Parkinson’s disease. The exact root of the disease is still unknown, but several factors may play a role. These factors include:
Genes: Certain genetic mutations are identified and linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Environmental triggers: Toxin exposure and other environmental factors may heighten the risk of having the disease.
Studies also show that the brains of people with the disease experience many changes, but it is not clear why such changes happen. These changes in the brain include:
The presence of Lewy bodies: The microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease, Lewy bodies are clumps of certain substances in the brain cells, and are believed to play a big role in the manifestation of the disorder.
The Lewy bodies contain Alpha-synuclein: While there are many substances found within the Lewy bodies, it is believed that the presence of alpha-synuclein (A-synuclein), a natural protein, has a significant role in the disorder.
Although there is no specific test that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease, your doctor may request a number of tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.
Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist, or specialist in the disorders of the nervous system. Oftentimes, a lot of things are needed to be discussed, especially in this case. So, it is ideal that you get some notes ready, including:
Your key personal information, such as major life changes and stresses
List of medications, supplements and vitamins you take
It would also be ideal to have someone to go with you, like a family member or a trusted friend. Also, it is a good idea to write the questions you want to ask your doctor.
Several blood tests and imaging tests, such as ultrasound of the brain, MRI, SPECT and PET scans can be done to help diagnose the disorder. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe a medication called carbidopa-levodopa, a drug that alleviates the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. If you respond to it positively, and the symptoms significantly diminish, chances are, you really have this degenerative condition.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are available courses of treatments that can help keep your symptoms under control.
Certain drugs may help manage issues with the motor movements, such as walking and help minimize the tremors, as well. Usually, these medications increase the level of dopamine, or even substitute them. Dopamine cannot be given directly, so a great improvement with the symptoms are needed before starting certain treatments. The effects of the drugs, however, may become less consistent over time. Other medications include carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors, Anticholinergics, amantadine, and many others.
In some cases, surgery is done to slow down the progress of Parkinson’s disease, particularly on its later stages. Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that involves implantation of electrodes to a specific part of the brain. These electrodes connect to a generator, which is implanted to the chest. The generator sends electrical pulses to the brain, reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Like any other surgeries, DBS has its risks, which may include stroke, brain hemorrhage, or infections.
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