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Health and Fitness News

Inside Parkinson’s Disease

An inside look at the causes, early symptoms, and treatment for this dreaded condition.

Across the globe, more than 10 million people live with Parkinson’s disease. Celebrity figures such as Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have helped increase awareness and understanding of this difficult disease, but much is still unknown.

A neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson’s slowly causes deterioration and loss of function in the central nervous system. It mainly affects neurons in an area of the brain responsible for producing the neurotransmitter dopamine, and no two people experience Parkinson’s the same way.

While there is variance in each case, here are a few basic facts of what is known about Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Common Symptoms & How They Present

The symptoms of PD develop slowly over the course of years. The main four symptoms are tremor in the hands, rigidity in the limbs, slow movements, and trouble walking or balancing.

Early symptoms may include a slight tremor in the finger, hand, or chin, especially while at rest. Some people notice that their handwriting becomes smaller or more crowded together. Over time, the arms, shoulder, hips, or legs feel stiff, so movements aren’t as fluid. Arms may no longer swing while walking. In the early stages of PD, some people appear to have a masked face, meaning they look serious or mad when they aren’t. Loss of smell, dizziness, a slouched posture, constipation, a low or soft voice, trouble sleeping, or active sleep are other early symptoms.

I have no choice about whether or not I have Parkinson’s. I have nothing but choices about how I react to it. In those choices, there’s freedom to do a lot of things in areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise found myself in. - Michael J. Fox

Complicated Causes

Like many diseases, the root cause of any case of Parkinson’s seems to be a complex combination of environment and genetics. Scientists have discovered dozens of DNA mutations connected to Parkinson’s. And their research indicates that up to 15 percent of PD cases can be traced genetically.

Environmental factors also play a role in your likelihood of Parkinson’s. You’re at a greater risk if you suffered a previous head injury; were exposed to metals, toxic solvents, or pesticides; or live in certain areas of the country. Caffeine, exercise, and vitamin D, on the other hand, have been shown to lower your risk. Interestingly, regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, smoking, higher than average levels of uric acid in the blood, and the use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol all seem to protect against Parkinson’s.

Difficult Diagnosis

There’s no one test to diagnose PD. A neurologist diagnoses the disease based on symptoms, medical history, physical exam, and neurological exam. Blood tests, PET scan, ultrasound, or MRI may be ordered to rule out other possible health conditions that could be causing symptoms. The doctor may prescribe a PD medication as part of the diagnostic process. If symptoms improve, then a diagnosis of PD is confirmed.

Treatment for Quality of Life

Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment depends on symptoms. For optimal outcome, those with PD work closely with a neurologist to develop a treatment plan. This may include medication, surgery, physical therapy, speech therapy, cardio exercise, and support from family and friends.
In many cases, medications help manage symptoms such as tremors, movement difficulties, and trouble walking. Unfortunately, they may lose their effectiveness over time or come with negative side effects. Should this happen, close communication with a doctor is vital.

Surgical procedures are another line of PD treatment, usually reserved for those with severe symptoms. Deep brain stimulation is becoming a common option. During this procedure, electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a generator in the chest that sends electrical impulses. The strength of the impulses can be modified depending on the severity of symptoms.

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