What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, chronic neurological condition that affects a person’s movement, gait and/or balance. Parkinson’s disease causes a gradual deterioration of a small area of cells in the midbrain known as the substantia nigra.
The deterioration of these cells causes a decrease in dopamine, a neurotransmitter used by your nerves to send signals from your brain to the rest of your body. The physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by this decrease in dopamine.
Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
The classic signs of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Gait or balance problems (postural dysfunction)
- Generalized slowness of movement (bradykinesia)
- Resting tremor on one side of the body
- Stiffness of limbs (rigidity)
Other symptoms you may observe include:
- Decreased facial expression (hypomimia)
- Depression or anxiety
- Episodes of feeling “stuck in place” when initiating a step (freezing)
- Lack of arm swing on the affected side
- Lack of sense of smell
- Lowered voice volume (dysarthria)
- Slight foot drag on the affected side
- Small cramped handwriting (micrographia)
- Vivid dreams
Please note that few patients experience all of these symptoms, and some may experience other symptoms not listed here.
Please seek the help of a licensed medical professional if you are concerned about your health, and dial 9-1-1 if you are experiencing an emergency.
Parkinson’s Disease Treatments
Parkinson’s disease is not a fatal illness, but it does not have a cure. However, medical and surgical treatments, combined with exercise and neuro-rehabilitation, allow many people to maintain a high level of function. The goal of treatment is to maximize independence and quality of life. Your treatment may include medication, surgery, and rehabilitation therapy.
Parkinson’s Disease Medications
Medications aimed at controlling Parkinson’s disease symptoms can provide effective Parkinson’s treatment. Your treatment will be tailored to your symptoms and may require a combination of several different medications.
Parkinson’s Disease Surgery
For those whose Parkinson’s disease symptoms do not respond to the usual medical treatments, or those in whom medication is losing effectiveness, surgery may be an option.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) involves placement of a wire electrode into a specific area of your brain. This electrode is connected to a stimulator that is implanted underneath your collarbone that sends a precisely calibrated electrical pulse to the electrode. Switching the stimulator on with a hand-held control sends electronic pulses to the brain that interrupt the signals that cause tremor.
Parkinson’s Disease Neuro-Rehabilitation
Physical, occupational, or speech therapy–combined with modifications in the home environment–can help you achieve maximum comfort, safety, and independence.
How common is Parkinson’s disease?
It is estimated that up to 1 million Americans are affected with Parkinson’s disease and approximately 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. One out of every 100 people over the age of 60 is affected.
Who gets Parkinson’s disease?
Men are more likely to be diagnosed than women, and the incidence of Parkinson’s increases with age. While only 20 percent of people with Parkinson’s are thought to have a hereditary connection, researchers recently isolated a gene responsible for multiple cases of the disease in a large family. However, most researchers agree that Parkinson’s disease is probably the result of a genetic predisposition coupled with an unknown environmental factor.
Some researchers are investigating a possible link between Parkinson’s and exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. Others think the disease may be the result of the natural aging process gone awry, accelerating the normal brain cell death that occurs as we age.
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
There is no definitive blood test or X-ray to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Rather, the diagnosis is based on a thorough neurological examination that includes your symptoms, medical history, and response to medications.
An MRI and blood tests can help rule out conditions that may produce similar symptoms, such as a stroke or normal pressure hydrocephalus. Once a probable diagnosis is established, your doctor will prescribe medications that will help confirm or disprove the diagnosis.