Parkinson's disease is a progressive condition of the nervous system that affects an individual’s movement. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease often begin gradually, with a barely noticeable tremor in the hand. During the early stages of the disease, an individual may experience stiffness or slow movement in the arms, legs and face. As the disorder progresses, symptoms may worsen, causing an individual to have trouble talking, walking or doing household tasks.
Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, doctors may suggest surgery or deep brain stimulation in severe cases to help improve symptoms.
Parkinson's disease signs and symptoms may vary depending on an individual’s overall health condition. Parkinson's signs and symptoms may include:
- Tremor/shaking of the hand or fingers
- Slow movement (Bradykinesia)
- Stiffness of the muscles
- Balance problems
- Writing changes
- Slurred speech
- Inability to move or grasp objects
- Inability to blink, smile or swing arms
Parkinson's disease is caused by the loss of certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. As a result, this leads to a reduction in the amount of a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps regulate movement of the brain and a reduction causes symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to surface.
Although the cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, there are several factors that appear to play a role, including:
- Genetics (family history of Parkinson’s disease)
- Exposure to certain toxins or fumes
- The presence of Lewy bodies (clumps of specific substances within brain cells)
- A-synucleain protein from Lewy bodies
Risk factors for Parkinson's disease include the following:
- Aging (most common in ages around 60 or older)
- Genetics (Family history of Parkinson’s disease)
- Being male (more common in men than in women)
- Exposure to certain toxins
Complications that can arise from Parkinson's disease may include the following:
- Difficulty thinking/concentrating
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty urinating/inability to control bladder
- Difficulty identifying certain odors
- Emotional changes (depression, fear, anxiety, loss of motivation)
- Sleep disorders
- Low blood pressure
- Decrease in sexual performance
- Pain in specific areas of the body or throughout the body
Although Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, there are treatments available that can help control and reduce symptoms. Treatment options can include certain medications to help manage problems with movement (walking) and shaking (tremor). These medications include:
- Carbidopa-levodopa: A natural chemical that passes into the brain and is converted into dopamine
- Dopamine agonists: Injectables that mimic dopamine effects in the brain and can help provide quick relief of symptoms
- MAO-B inhibitors: Medications that help prevent the breakdown of brain dopamine by inhibiting the brain enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B).
- Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors: Medications that help block an enzyme that breaks down dopamine and prolongs the effect of levodopa therapy.
- Anticholinergics: Medications used to help control tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease
- Amantadine: A medication used to provide short term relief of symptoms in mid, early stages of Parkinson’s disease
Other treatment options may include the following:
- Deep brain stimulation: A procedure that involves the implantation of electrodes into a specific part of the brain. The electrodes are connected to the chest and send out electrical signals to the brain that can help reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms and improve movement. This procedure is often recommended for individuals with advanced Parkinson’s disease.
- Physical therapy: A rehabilitation program that uses specific exercises to help regain muscular function and coordination.
There is no way to fully prevent Parkinson’s disease; however, some research has shown that caffeine may help reduce the risk of developing the disorder. Green tea and regular aerobic exercise may also help reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.