Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder of the brain that leads to a decrease in dopamine-producing brain cells, resulting in a loss of movement or loss of control of movement. This disease is a chronic condition that develops gradually overtime and gets progressively worse. It is estimated that almost one million people in the United States have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the breakdown and loss of neurons in the brain. The neurons that die off are responsible for producing dopamine, a chemical that aids the brain in controlling body movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, the amount of dopamine generated reaches extremely low levels, leaving the person incapable of commanding or controlling movement in a normal fashion.
Parkinson’s disease is progressive and may produce many symptoms that can begin as mild and gradually become more pronounced overtime. There are four major symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. They are:
- Tremors, which can occur in the arms, legs, hands, jaw or face
- Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
- Slow movement
- Impaired balance and coordination
Other symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Expressionless face
- Aches and pain in muscles
- Trouble starting a movement
- Trouble continuing movements
- Slow, low-volume speech
- Memory loss
After decades of research, no exact causes have been determined for Parkinson’s disease. Researchers agree that decreased levels of dopamine in the brain bring about the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but the reason the neurons deteriorate and die off has not yet been discovered.
Many believe that it could be a combination of genetic or environmental factors that contribute to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Though genetic forms of the diseases are rare, it is currently being researched intensely. There is no conclusive evidence that any one environmental factor can be the sole cause of Parkinson’s disease. Some possible genetic factors include:
- Family history of Parkinson’s diseases in a sibling or parent
- Mutations in the genes responsible for dopamine function
Some possible environmental factors include:
- Prolonged exposure to toxins such as insecticides, herbicides and fungicides.
- Exposure to Agent Orange.
- Exposure to the neurotoxin MPTP, a synthetic heroin from the 1980’s.
Certain factors may increase your chances of developing Parkinson’s disease; however, no exact cause has yet been identified. Risk factors include:
- Middle or advanced age
- Having a primary relative or several relatives with the disease
- Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s diseases than women
- Prolonged, repetitive exposure to environmental toxins
A person exhibiting the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease will likely be referred to a neurologist. The neurologist will perform several tests to determine if there are any underlying causes for these symptoms before giving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
There is no specific test designed to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor will likely reach a diagnosis based upon a combination of your medical history, symptoms, physical and neurological exam. Tests used to rule out other medical conditions that may produce similar symptoms include:
- Brain scan
- Blood tests
- Trial period of the leading Parkinson’s diseases medication to see if your symptoms respond.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are many medications that work to control the symptoms of the disease. For advanced cases of Parkinson’s disease, surgery may help to reduce symptoms. Your doctor will likely also recommend certain lifestyle changes and physical therapy to improve balance as part of your treatment plan.
Medications used for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Levodopa, a natural chemical that passes through the brain and is morphed into dopamine. Currently, this is the most effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
- Dopamine agonists, which mimic the effects of dopamine in the brain. This may be used in conjunction with Levodopa to receive maximum results.
- MAO B inhibitors, which may be able to prevent the deterioration of dopamine in the brain.
- COMT inhibitors, which can prolong the effects of Levodopa.
- Anticholinergic, which can help to control tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease.
- Amantadine, which is usually prescribed in early, mild cases of Parkinson’s disease.
Surgical procedures for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are surgically implanted into the brain. A generator controls these electrodes, which is implanted surgically into the patient’s chest. The generator then sends impulses to the electrodes, which stimulate the brain and helps to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This procedure is typically used in patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease that have not had positive responses to medications. There are several possible side effects associated with this procedure including stroke, hemorrhage and infection.
If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, your doctor will help you to come up with a treatment plan that best controls your symptoms. This plan may include medication as well as lifestyle changes, which you can do at home. Some effective home remedies include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet that is high in fiber and fluids to relieve the symptom of constipation that is often seen in people with Parkinson’s disease. For tips on increasing your fiber intake, read 10 Must-Have Foods For Your High Fiber Diet Plan.
- Use caution when walking, as your balance will be off. Try not to move too quickly to avoid falls. Use stair rails when available and always look in front of you when you walk rather than looking down.
- Try to avoid falling. Don’t lean over to reach for things. Don’t walk while attempting to carry something and avoid walking backwards.
- As daily activities may become more difficult, the use of an occupational therapist may be helpful to teach you new techniques to complete everyday activities.
It may be helpful when treating symptoms to utilize alternative or complementary medicine in your treatment plan in conjunction with your medication and home remedies. Alternative medicine treatment options include:
- Taking the supplement Coenzyme Q10
- Massage therapy
- Tai Chi, which can enhance balance and movement
- Alexander technique for improved muscle posture
- Meditation to reduce stress
- Music therapy may help to improve speech and walking
In addition to disturbances with movement and balance, people with Parkinson’s disease may experience additional difficulties including:
- Cognitive problems such as dementia and difficulty thinking.
- Emotional changes such as depression.
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent night waking.
- Difficulty controlling the bladder.
- Sexual dysfunction
Because there is no known cause for Parkinson’s disease, prevention methods can be difficult. Some researchers believe that the caffeine found in coffee, tea and soda might be helpful in the prevention of Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, it is believed that green tea may also be useful in reducing the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease will likely be very difficult and accompanied by many emotions such as anger, sadness and feelings of depression. It may be helpful to seek out support in the form of a group, counselor or social worker. Support groups can be helpful for not only the patient but for the whole family as well. It is important to fully understand the disease and work together to come up with the best methods to control symptoms. People age 60 or older may qualify for state or federal support following a diagnosis, including the delivery of meals.
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive condition that has no known cause. Symptoms may be controlled with medication, lifestyle changes and ongoing support. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, consult your doctor to rule out any possible underlying medical conditions and receive a proper diagnosis so you can begin a treatment plan.