Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that can slowly chip away at the quality of life of those living with it and their families. It’s estimated that between 500,000 and one million Americans currently live with the disease, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States. Since the disease develops slowly, it can be easy to miss or misunderstand the symptoms as they appear. Knowing what Parkinson’s disease is, its symptoms, and the treatment options, you can begin to combat some of the fear that naturally comes with a diagnosis.
As a neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson’s disease is caused by a deterioration of parts of the brain. Specifically for Parkinson’s, the deterioration is a result of neurons becoming impaired or dying in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain which controls movement. As the neurons continue to become impaired or die, movement is more significantly affected, showcasing the symptoms that are associated with the disorder.
The specific causes of Parkinson’s disease aren’t fully known or understood by scientists. There are some risk factors that make developing Parkinson’s more likely, however. Genetics is a major one, likely accounting for 10 percent to 15 percent of all cases. Research into the genetics of people with Parkinson’s disease has found genetic mutations that are now linked with the disorder. Environmental factors may also play a role with its development, with certain pesticides, metals, and occupations potentially influencing your risk. In contrast, healthy lifestyle choices like exercise, limited caffeine consumption, and high Vitamin D intake may lower your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
While the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms can vary from person to person, the three cardinal movement symptoms are slowed: movement, stiffness, and a resting tremor. Someone with Parkinson’s may develop balance or walking issues. Mood disorders like depression are also not uncommon among those who the disease.
The Parkinson’s Foundation lists the 10 early signs of the disorder as:
If you notice the onset or one or several of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. They may decide to test you for Parkinson’s, which can involve scans and lab tests such as spinal taps or biopsies.
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, though there are therapies and treatment options to help control or lessen the symptoms. Medications are the most common route taken, though there aren’t currently drugs to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s. Some examples of medications you may be prescribed to treat symptoms are carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine antagonists, and amantadine, to name a few. There’s also ongoing research for the benefits of medical marijuana for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a healthy diet, exercise, and physical therapy to aid with balance and flexibility. By working with your doctor, you can find the treatment(s) that work best for your specific case.
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With no cure currently available, Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that’s important to catch early. That said, if you have Parkinson’s, you can reclaim your quality of life with the help of your loved ones and health care providers. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before we are able to slow or even stop the progression of this neurodegenerative disease.