What is a Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s disease, also simply known as PD, is a neurodegenerative disorder. A neurodegenerative disorder is a gradual deterioration or death of brain cells. As a result, an individual experiences issues while performing daily chores. Most of the degenerative nerves diseases are incurable and tend to aggravate over time.
Parkinson’s disease largely affects movement due to the direct effect of the disease on the motor function of the brain. There are little to no Parkinson’s disease symptoms in the initial stages of the disease, but symptoms worsen noticeably as the disease progresses.
The most common sufferers of this disease are older people, usually over the age of 60 but Parkinson’s can be diagnosed in people younger than that too. Men are usually at a higher risk of being affected by this disease as compared to women. Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is difficult, and it is a condition that cannot be detected by any kind of lab tests. Instead, doctors rely heavily on the patient’s medical history as well as a neurological exam in order to diagnose the disease. Parkinson’s disease, like many neurodegenerative diseases, is incurable and can only be controlled via the help of medicines and other forms of treatment.
What causes Parkinson's Disease?
For now, there are no known causes of Parkinson’s disease and research is being conducted to identify the core cause of this disease.
It is said that most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by the loss of the neuron that is responsible for producing dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, natural substances in the body that mediate the transfer of signals to and from the central nervous system and to different parts of the body. Dopamine is said to have multiple roles in many different body processes such as helping regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, social behavior, memory, sexual desire and even standard function and movement. As the disease progresses, it continues to break down nerve cells and eventually breaks down the cell that produces this chemical messenger. As dopamine levels drop, the brain is susceptible to abnormal activity and some of these activities are symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Other factors that are said to play an important part in triggering Parkinson’s disease are as follows.
- Genetics factor
Scientists have been able to identify a form of a gene mutation that is directly responsible for causing Parkinson’s disease. This is fairly uncommon though, and unless many members of a particular family are affected by this medical condition it is not looked into most of the time. However, if asking whether Parkinson’s disease is hereditary then the answer is that it can be. Having a close relative with the disease increases the risk of you having the disease as well.
- Environmental factors
This is an important factor for determining the causes of Parkinson’s disease. Certain environmental factors like exposure to toxins, mustard gas, UV rays, etc. may also cause genetic mutations. This factor, however, is also a low-risk one.
Apart from this, researchers have noticed changes in the brain of people afflicted with Parkinson’s. These changes are said to be a factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease as well. The changes are:
- The presence of Lewy bodies.
These may be called the markers of Parkinson’s disease. Lewy bodies are clumps of certain substances found in the brain cells. Lewy bodies are said to carry a number of different substances, and of these the most important is a protein known as, alpha-synuclein.
Signs and symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease symptoms tend to increase in severity as the disease progresses. There are several stages of Parkinson's disease, with each stage carrying different signs and symptoms. As the stages increase, the patient starts to lose more control over them and requires a helper/caregiver to help them with activities as simple as walking.
Parkinson's Symptoms include:
The individual may experience tremors or shaking in the hand, fingers, legs, jaw or head particularly when at rest. This usually starts from one side of the body but may spread to the entire body if left untreated. Shaking may also worsen when the individual is stressed or excited.
- Stiffness of the muscles
Muscles in any part of the body may become stiff or rigid. This may cause pain and limit the individual’s range of motion.
- Slowing movements
Slow movements are also known as bradykinesia. This occurs over time, with the affected individual taking too much time or facing difficulty in performing simple tasks. One’s steps may become shorter or slower, or they might just drag their feet across the floor. One may also experience difficulty writing as well as talking. Slurred or soft speech may also be observed, and the patient may become monotone or expressionless while speaking.
- Poor balance and coordination
Impaired or loss of reflexes is another symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It may also cause a stooped posture that may result in aggravated balance control issues.
Because of all of these symptoms, an individual may face challenges with activities like walking, swallowing, eating, thinking, bladder control, sleep disorders, fatigue, sexual dysfunction and other issues.
What is the recommended treatment for Parkinson's Disease?
There is no treatment to treat this disease in full. However, there are several ways to reduce the symptoms and maintain the quality of life of the affected individual. These forms of treatment include:
- Forms of supportive treatments such as physiotherapy or occupational therapy.
- The use of medications
- Brain surgery
- Deep brain stimulation (DBS) that involves the surgical implantation of electrodes in the brain to stimulate such parts of the mind that are responsible for controlling movement.
Parkinson’s disease is not a life-threatening disease, but it may significantly affect the daily life of an individual. As the condition worsens, the disease places a great strain on the individual and causes them to be more susceptible to other serious infections.
- Michael J. Fox Foundation – Alpha-Synuclein and Parkinson’s Disease
- The Physio Company – What Is Physiotherapy?
- Aota – What is Occupational Therapy?