Approximately 600,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease annually, with more than 1 million people living with the condition in the United States. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that causes unintended body movements, such as uncontrollable shaking, difficulty with balance and coordination, and stiffness.
Incidences of PD increase with age and are often accompanied by other medical complications like cognitive impairment, sleep disorders, mental health disorders, and sensory disturbances. Symptoms begin gradually and then worsen over time.
As PD progresses, the patient may experience difficulty with speech and walking. They may also have behavioral and cognitive changes, depression, fatigue, and memory difficulties.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative brain condition associated with motor complications and non-motor conditions. The disease affects the normally smooth and coordinated bodily muscle movements made possible by dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between parts of the brain and nervous system that control and coordinate body movements.
Dopamine is produced in the substantia nigra. PD symptoms usually only develop when the dopamine cells in the dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra begin to die (drop to around 80%). When these neurons become impaired or die, the nerves in the basal ganglia produce less dopamine, causing movement problems associated with Parkinson’s.
One clear risk of PD is age, although most people with the condition first develop it after age 60. However, adults as young as 20 may show signs of Parkinson’s (although this is extremely rare). Some Parkinson’s cases appear to be hereditary and may be traced to genetic mutations.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
Although the main cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, several studies have shown links to genetic and environmental factors like exposure to toxins, solvents, pesticides, and air pollution over prolonged periods.
Studies estimate less than 10% of PD cases primarily result from genetic causes, with the most common genetic effect known to trigger the disease being LRRK2. Mutations in the alpha-synuclein are also known to trigger Parkinson’s. However, these are quite rare genetic causes. In most cases, scientists are yet to find substantial genetic causes for PD. It can run in families as parents pass mutated genes to their children. But again, inheriting the disease this way is also rare.
Significant exposure to certain environmental factors, such as pesticides and certain heavy metals, can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, most patients may not have a clear environmental cause for their PD diagnosis. This is because several years of prolonged exposure often pass before the patient experiences the first Parkinson’s symptoms, making the connection difficult to establish.
Young adults and people aged 50 and below rarely experience Parkinson’s disease. Ordinarily, the risk of PD increases with age as symptoms begin to show in middle or late life. Most people develop the disease from age 60 or older.
Low Dopamine Levels
Parkinson’s symptoms result mainly from falling or low dopamine levels in the brain. This makes it harder for patients to control movement and coordination. As dopamine levels die in the brain, symptoms gradually become more pronounced and severe.
Having relatives with PD also increases your chances of developing the disease. But the risks are significantly small unless most of your relatives have a history of Parkinson’s disease.
What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are different for everyone. Early signs may go unnoticed as the symptoms often start showing on one side of the body. The best-known symptoms of PD involve loss of muscle control. But muscle control-related issues are only part of the possible symptoms of the disease.
Motor-Related PD Symptoms
Motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may include:
- Rigidity or stiffness
- Slowed movements
- Trouble swallowing
- Unstable posture or walking gait
- Unusually soft speaking voice
- Blinking less often than usual
- A tremor while muscles are in a resting state
- Mask-like facial expression
Non-motor PD symptoms
Non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms are often the first warning signs that show years before motor symptoms become pronounced. They may include:
- Autonomic nervous system symptoms, such as orthostatic hypotension, constipation and gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunctions, and urinary incontinence
- Sleep problems
- Trouble focusing and thinking (Parkinson’s-related dementia)
- Loss of sense of smell
What Conditions Can Mimic Parkinson’s Disease?
Because the main cause of PD is the loss of dopamine-releasing nerve cells in the patient’s brain, other conditions with the same effect may result in symptoms resembling Parkinson’s. Medications that block dopamine receptors and those used to treat psychosis and depression can also produce similar symptoms.
Symptoms common in Parkinson’s patients, such as muscle rigidity, impaired balance, tremors, impaired coordination, and slow movement, can be associated with other medical conditions. Getting specialist diagnosis and support is critical to determine if PD is the main cause of these symptoms or if they are the effect of another condition.
Other neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Lewy body disease, Spinal muscular atrophy, and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can also resemble PD. The symptoms shown by these conditions can be difficult to distinguish without a proper diagnosis by a psychologist, physical therapist, or specialist nurse.
Some symptoms of PD and multiple sclerosis are very similar, making diagnosing and distinguishing one condition from the other challenging. Both conditions start out with relatively mild symptoms but progress and become more severe over time. Having a clear diagnosis of the specific disease will lead to a more appropriate and effective treatment plan.
Parkinson’s Disease Treatment
Brooks Rehabilitation tailors each patient’s treatment to their individual circumstances. Our specialists use evidence-based treatment programs to provide a holistic approach to individual patients. While there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, there are several treatment options.
Medicines used to treat PD are designed to increase dopamine levels in the brain. The most commonly used medicines include:
- Dopamine agonists: these act like dopamine but won’t raise levels of it in the brain. Examples include ropinirole and pramipexole
- Levodopa: used to replace dopamine
- MAO-B inhibitors: these stop the brain from breaking down levodopa. Examples include rasagiline and selegiline
- Amantadine: used for patients with abnormal movements (dyskinesia)
- Anticholinergics: these help with tremors
- COMT inhibitors: these help levodopa to last longer and include tolcapone and entacapone
People respond to medication differently. Therefore, ensure you consult with the highly-qualified physicians at Brooks Rehabilitation before taking any medication to treat Parkinson’s disease.
You may consider deep brain stimulation (DBS) when medicine does not work well enough. Electrodes are implanted deep in your brain, and a device is connected to them to deliver electrical pulses. DBS helps control tremors caused by Parkinson’s.
DBS is not suitable for everyone. Therefore, discuss this treatment option with your healthcare provider to see if it is the right option.
Diet & exercise
Eating vegetables and grains, high-fiber fruits, and drinking plenty of water can help prevent the constipation that often accompanies PD. Getting regular exercise also boosts strength, balance, and flexibility. A physical therapist can advise you on the best exercise programs and strategies to overcome the loss of balance, freezing of movement, and other PD-related symptoms.
Learn More About Parkinson’s Disease At Brooks Rehabilitation
While experts are still unsure what exactly causes Parkinson’s, proper diagnosis of the disease by our medical group at Brooks Rehabilitation offers medications and ongoing treatment options to better the condition.
Brooks Rehabilitation offers a wide range of services, from comprehensive wellness programs to outpatient physical therapy to help. We provide the best care tailored to give maximum care for your Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Visit one of our locations or contact us for more information on Parkinson’s disease.