Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive disorder that attacks your nervous system. Nerve cells that send signals to your body to move are sent through dopamine, which is an important neurochemical created in the brain. Parkinson’s disease causes these cells to break down, making it difficult for your body to create dopamine. Without dopamine, your brain becomes less capable of controlling the movement of your body. Parkinson’s disease is progressive, meaning over time it gets worse, and chronic, meaning symptoms severely affect everyday life.
Risk Factors and Causes
There is no scientific or medical evidence that tells us definitively what causes Parkinson’s disease. There is a theory that it is inherited, but that is not always the case. Age is a notable risk factor, as many cases develop in middle or later stages in life. Those with a family history of Parkinson’s are more are risk and men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women. Some research has suggested that exposure to toxic chemicals increases your risk, though direct causes for Parkinson’s are still unknown.
The most definitive symptom is a tremor. A tremor is when a body part moves or shakes without the ability to stop or control the movement. While a tremor by itself is not indication of Parkinson’s disease, if it is coupled with any of the following, you need to consult a doctor soon:
- Slowed movement and stiffness
- Freezing while attempting to walk
- Micrographia – handwriting that appears tiny and cramped
- Suddenly falling backwards
- Decrease in automatic reflexes like swallowing or blinking
- Trouble walking or balancing yourself
- Disturbed sleep
- Increase in oily skin and/or dandruff
- Loss of sense of smell
There is no definitive way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Usually all of the symptoms described above, or a combination of a few of them, is enough for a doctor to put you on a regimen of medicines for the disease. Sometimes doctors will run blood tests to rule out other conditions with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. If you don’t respond to the medication, then Parkinson’s could be ruled out.
There are five stages of Parkinson’s disease.
- Stage One: Symptoms are very mild though everyday tasks may be difficult. Tremors are usually a regular occurrence and your posture may begin to suffer as you begin to lose balance for no reason.
- Stage Two: Symptoms begin to affect both sides of the body, making it even harder to balance yourself and complete basic tasks.
- Stage Three: Movement slows down significantly as it becomes more difficult to walk or even stand.
- Stage Four: Symptoms become more severe though tremors decrease significantly during this stage. Other symptoms have become severe enough to prevent many from living independently, causing many to need help with the simplest tasks.
- Stage Five: Advanced stages require intense one-on-one care. Walking, eating, drinking, and other basic daily activities will require assistance
Parkinson’s disease itself doesn’t cause death, though complications have exceptionally high risks. It is not abnormal for someone with Parkinson’s disease to get pneumonia or other illness that result from a compromised immune system. Aside from vulnerability to common illness, falling injuries, and eating/drinking risks, those with Parkinson’s can live just as long as those without the disease.
Most people with Parkinson’s take several medications to improve their quality of life. L-dopa helps to produce dopamine, which lessens the symptoms of Parkinson’s. This drug is often taken in conjunction with COMT inhibitors, which help to prolong the relief of symptoms. Other drugs can help control various symptoms. In the early stages of Parkinson’s, only one or two drugs may be taken. But as the symptoms worsen, your doctor may recommend more drugs or a different medication.
Lifestyle changes can reduce and relieve some symptoms while ensuring medication is working as effectively as possible. There are some specific nutritional needs of people living with Parkinson’s disease that should be considered. There are some procedures and surgeries that can also help relieve symptoms. They should be discussed with your doctor. Since Parkinson’s patients also frequently suffer from depression, there are exercise and support groups available to provide you with ongoing support as you cope with a chronic condition.
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