Understanding Parkinsons Disease
Posted: Feb 16, 2021
Parkinson’s disease is a relatively common disorder of the nervous system that is due to damage to the nerve cells in a part of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is needed for the smooth control of muscles and movement, so the symptoms of the condition is a result of a loss of that chemical. Parkinson’s disease primarily affects people aged over 65, but it can and does come on at earlier ages with 5-10% occurring below the age of 40.
The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are a tremor or shaking, which usually starts in one arm or hand; there is often a muscle rigidity or stiffness and a slowness of movement; the posture becomes more stooped; there are also balance problems. Parkinson’s can also cause increased pain and lead to depression and create problems with memory and sleep. There is no specific test for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. The diagnosis is usually made based on the history of the symptoms, a physical and neurological examination. Other causes for the symptoms also need to be ruled out. There are imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI, that can be used to rule out other conditions. Sometimes a dopamine transporter scan might also be used.
The exact cause of Parkinson’s is not known. It does appear to have both genetic and environmental components to it and some experts think that a virus can trigger Parkinson’s as well. Lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, a substance that regulates the dopamine, have been found in those with Parkinson’s, but it is not clear what is causing that. Abnormal proteins that are called Lewy bodies have also been found in the brains of people who have Parkinson’s; however, experts don’t know what role they might play in the development of Parkinson’s. While the exact cause is not known, research has identified risk factors that identify groups of people who are more likely to develop the condition. Men are more than one and a half times more likely to get Parkinson’s than women. Caucasians are much more likely to get the condition compared to than African Americans or Asians. Those who have close family members that have Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, indicating the genetic involvement. Certain toxins may increase the risk of the condition, indicating a role of the environment. People who experience issues with head injuries may be more likely to go on and develop Parkinson’s disease.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. That does not mean that the symptoms cannot be treated. The primary approach is to use medicines to increase or substitute for the dopamine. A healthy diet with regular exercise is important. There can be modifications made to the environment at home and work to keep the person involved and engaged. There are also some options in some cases for brain surgery that can be used to reduce some of the motor symptoms. A large team of different health professionals are often involved.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.