Parkinson’s disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Prevention

Parkinson’s disease is a terminal disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a scarcely visible tremor in just one hand. The disease causes stiffness or slowing of movement and a tremor may be the most recognizable sign. Your face may show little or no expression, or your arms may not swing when you walk, in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Your speech may become slurred. Parkinson’s disease symptoms deteriorates as time goes on.

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Parkinson’s disease has no cure. Though medications may noticeably improve your symptoms. In occasional cases, your doctor may suggest surgery to normalize certain regions of your brain and improve your symptoms.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may vary from person to person. Early signs may be mild and may go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of your body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

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Parkinson’s signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tremor:A tremor or shaking of your hand when it is at rest is one of the main sign of Parkinson’s disease. The tremor usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. You may notice a back-and-forth rubbing of your thumb and forefinger, known as a pill-rolling tremor.
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia):Parkinson’s disease may reduce your ability to move and slow your movement, making simple tasks appear very difficult. Your steps may become shorter when you walk, or you may find it hard to get out of a chair. Also, you may drag your feet as you try to walk, making it hard to move.
  • Rigid muscles:Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can limit your motion and cause severe pain.
  • Impaired posture and balance:Your posture may become curved, or you may have balance problems.
  • Loss of automatic movements: You may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements like smiling, blinking, or swinging your arms when you walk.
  • Writing changes.It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.
  • Speech changes:You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before speaking. Your speech may be more of a monotone.

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Causes of Parkinson’s disease

Certain neurons in the brain gradually break down or die, causing Parkinson’s disease. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is strange, but several factors appear to play a role, including:

  • Your genes:Researchers have identified specific genetic changes that can cause Parkinson’s disease, but these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson’s disease.

However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson’s disease for each of these genetic markers.

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  • Environmental triggers.Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.

Researchers have also noted that many changes occur in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, although it’s not clear why these changes occur. These changes include:

  • The presence of Lewy bodies:Masses of specific substances within brain cells are microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease. These are called Lewy bodies, and researchers believe these Lewy bodies hold a vital clue to the cause of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Alpha-synuclein is found within Lewy bodies.Although many substances are found within Lewy bodies, scientists believe an important one is the natural and widespread protein called alpha-synuclein (A-synuclein). It’s found in all Lewy bodies in a clumped form that cells can’t break down. This is currently an important focus among Parkinson’s disease researchers.

Risk factors

Risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Age:The disease normally begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older. Young adults rarely experience Parkinson’s disease.
  • Heredity:Having a close relative with Parkinson’s disease increases the chances that you’ll develop the disease. However, your risks are still small unless you have many relatives in your family with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Sex:Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than are women.
  • Exposure to toxins:Ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may put you at a slightly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

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Complications

Parkinson’s disease is often accompanied by these additional problems, which may be treatable:

  • Thinking difficulties.You may experience cognitive problems (dementia) and thinking difficulties, which usually occur in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease. Such cognitive problems aren’t very responsive to medications.
  • Depression and emotional changes.People with Parkinson’s disease may experience depression. Receiving treatment for depression can make it easier to handle the other challenges of Parkinson’s disease.

You may also experience other emotional changes, such as fear, anxiety or loss of motivation. Doctors may give you medications to treat these symptoms.

  • Swallowing problems.You may develop difficulties with swallowing as your condition progresses. Saliva may accumulate in your mouth due to slowed swallowing, leading to drooling.
  • Sleep problems and sleep disorders.People with Parkinson’s disease often have sleep problems, including waking up frequently throughout the night, waking up early or falling asleep during the day.

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People may also experience rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which involves acting out your dreams. Medications may help your sleep problems.

  • Bladder problems.Parkinson’s disease may cause bladder problems, including being unable to control urine or having difficulty urinating.
  • Many people with Parkinson’s disease develop constipation, mainly due to a slower digestive tract.

You may also experience:

  • Blood pressure changes:You may feel dizzy when you stand due to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
  • Smell dysfunction:You may have difficulty identifying certain odors or the difference between odors.
  • Fatigue:Many people with Parkinson’s disease lose energy and experience tiredness, and the cause isn’t always known.
  • Many people with Parkinson’s disease experience pain, either in specific areas of their bodies or all over their bodies.
  • Sexual dysfunction.Some people with Parkinson’s disease notice a decrease in sexual desire or performance.

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if you have any of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease for proper diagnosis and also to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.

Prevention

The cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, so proven ways to prevent the disease also remain a clandestine. The following tips may help you prevent the disease:

  • Caffeine, found in coffee, tea and cola may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to research.
  • Green tea also may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Regular aerobic exercise may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

 

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