Parkinson’s Disease – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder that causes certain brain cells to die. This condition affects movement and coordination abilities of a person. Parkinson’s disease leads to shaking (tremors) and trouble walking and moving.
Parkinson’s disease most often develops after age 50. It is one of the most common nervous system problems in older adults. The disease tends to affect men more than women, although women also develop the disease. The disease can occur in younger adults, but it is rare in children.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
No one knows the cause of Parkinson’s disease. Doctors simply don’t know what causes these brain cells to die. Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to help control muscle movement. With Parkinson’s disease, the brain cells that make dopamine slowly die. Without dopamine, the cells that control movement cannot send messages to the muscles. This makes it hard to control the muscles. Slowly, over time, this damage gets worse. Sometimes, Parkinson’s disease runs in families and often caused due to genetic reasons.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
At first, the symptoms may be mild. You may have a mild tremor or a slight feeling that one leg is stiff and dragging. Symptoms may affect one or both sides of the body.
The following are the common symptoms:
- Problems with balance and walking
- Rigid or stiff muscles
- Muscle aches and pains
- Low blood pressure when you stand up
- Stooped posture
- Sweating and not being able to control your body temperature
- Slow blinking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Slowed, quieter speech and monotone voice
- No expression on your face (like you are wearing a mask)
The following movement problems may occur:
- Difficulty starting movement, such as starting to walk or getting out of a chair
- Difficulty continuing to move
- Slowed movements
- Loss of small hand movements (writing may become small and difficult to read)
- Difficulty eating
The following are the symptoms of shaking (tremors):
- Usually, occur when your limbs are not moving; this is called resting tremor
- Occur when your arm or leg is held out
- Go away when you move
- Maybe worse when you are tired, excited, or stressed
- Can cause you to rub your finger and thumb together without meaning to (called pill-rolling tremor)
- Eventually may occur in your head, lips, tongue, and feet
The following are the other symptoms:
- Anxiety, stress, and tension
- Memory loss
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
Doctors usually can diagnose Parkinson’s disease based on the symptoms and a physical exam. Sometimes, the symptoms can be hard to pin down, particularly in older adults. Symptoms are easier to recognize as the illness gets worse.
The doctor may find the following during the examination:
- Difficulty starting or finishing a movement
- Jerky, stiff movements
- Muscle loss
- Shaking (tremors)
- Changes in your heart rate
- Normal muscle reflexes
Your doctor may do some tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
How is Parkinson’s disease treated?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment aims to control the symptoms. Generally, treatment consists of medications, surgery, and lifestyle modifications.
Your doctor will prescribe medicines to help control shaking and movement symptoms.
At certain times during the day, the medicine may wear off and symptoms can return. If this happens, your doctor may change any of the following:
- Type of medicine
- Amount of time between doses
- The way you take the medicine
Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to help with:
- Mood and thinking problems
- Pain relief
- Sleep problems
- Drooling (botulinum toxin is often used)
Parkinson’s medicines can cause severe side effects, including:
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Feeling lightheaded or fainting
- Behaviors that are hard to control, such as gambling
Call and tell your doctor right away if you have these side effects.
As the disease gets worse, symptoms such as stooped posture, frozen movements, and speech problems may not respond to the medicines.
Surgery: Surgery may be an option for some people. Surgery does not cure Parkinson’s disease, but it may help ease symptoms.
The following surgical procedures may help ease symptoms:
- Deep brain stimulation. This involves placing electric stimulators in areas of the brain that control movement.
- Surgery to destroy brain tissue that causes Parkinson’s symptoms.
Lifestyle modifications: The following lifestyle modifications may help you cope with Parkinson’s disease:
- Stay healthy by eating nutritious foods and not smoking.
- Make changes in what you eat or drink if you have swallowing problems.
- Use speech therapy to help you adjust to changes in your swallowing and speech.
- Stay active as much as possible when you feel good. DO NOT overdo it when your energy is low.
- Rest as needed during the day and avoid stress.
- Use physical therapy and occupational therapy to help you stay independent and reduce the risk of falls.
- Place handrails throughout your house to help prevent falls. Place them in bathrooms and along stairways.
- Use assistive devices, when needed, to make movement easier. These devices may include special eating utensils, wheelchairs, bed lifts, shower chairs, and walkers.
- Talk to a social worker or other counseling service to help you and your family cope with the disorder. These services can also help you get outside help, such as Meals on Wheels.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.