Several diseases can affect our ability to control how we move our body. Many of these diseases are known as “movement disorders”. Perhaps one of the most well-known movement disorders is Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system. Nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s disease, and there is not yet a cure.

parkinson's disease

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder, which means symptoms are gradual and worsen over time, and it affects the nervous system—the part of your body that controls movement. People in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease might notice a few symptoms like stiffness or trouble moving certain body parts, but as the condition progresses, people can lose more control over parts of their body.

Additional problems such as difficulty thinking clearly, emotional changes, bladder problems, constipation and sleep disorders often accompany Parkinson’s disease. People with Parkinson’s disease may also experience other complications including fatigue, pain, suppressed sense of smell and sexual dysfunction.

How is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed?

Although no tests exist to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, your neurologist can diagnose the condition using a review of your medical history, a discussion of your signs and symptoms, and a basic examination. Other tests like MRI, ultrasounds and PET scans may be used in the diagnosis process to rule out other neurological disorders. You may not notice symptoms during the early stages of the disease, but you will see the severity of symptoms increase as the disease progresses. Some common symptoms include:

  • Slowed movements: Also known as bradykinesia, slowed movement is a symptom that progresses over time. People with Parkinson’s disease may notice that activities like walking or other simple tasks become more difficult and take longer.
  • Tremors: Minor shaking usually starts in the hands or fingers while they are relaxed.
  • Weakened posture and balance: People with Parkinson’s disease have trouble keeping their balance and may have a stooped posture.
  • Stiffness: Muscle stiffness can occur all over the body, limit range of motion and cause pain.
  • Changes in speaking and writing: Speaking may become more difficult, and slurred speech is common. People with Parkinson’s disease may also have trouble writing.
  • Automatic movement loss: Parkinson’s disease can limit the body’s ability to perform certain unconscious movements like blinking or smiling.

What Are Risk Factors of Parkinson’s Disease?

There are no known causes of Parkinson’s disease, but there are several factors that may increase the risk of developing it:

  • Genetics: A few genetic mutations have been identified as a cause of Parkinson’s disease, though these are rare.
  • Age: Parkinson’s disease is rare in young people. This disease usually begins to develop later in life and is more common for people age 60 or older.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than women.
  • Environment: Certain pesticides and other toxins in the environment may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s Disease

How is Parkinson’s Disease Treated?

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, your doctor may recommend two main approaches to treatment:

  1. 1. Medication: The goal of medications in treating Parkinson’s disease is to increase dopamine levels. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain acting as a neurotransmitter, which sends messages from parts of your body to the brain. There are several different kinds of medications that may be prescribed—in some cases, however, the effects of medication may lessen over time.
  2. 2. Surgery: During a procedure called “deep brain stimulation” (DBS), a surgeon will implant electrodes into the brain. These electrodes receive electrical pulses from a generator implanted in your chest, working similar to a pacemaker for the heart.

Your doctor may also recommend things like therapy and lifestyle adjustments like healthy eating and exercise—speech therapy is also common for patients with Parkinson’s disease. A combination of these treatments can’t cure Parkinson’s disease, but they can do well to help people manage and reduce their symptoms.

Our neurologists are trained specialists and work with your primary care physicians to develop a treatment plan personalized for you. We have access to the latest in imaging technology and our specialists are up to date on the most recent treatment options.

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Sources:

“What is Parkinson’s Disease?” Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. http://www.pdf.org/about_pd

“Parkinson’s disease.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/basics/definition/con-20028488

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