June 06, 2016 448
What is Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease is a disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. This means that people with Parkinson’s are unable to control their movements.It usually is characterized by tremors, slow movement, changes (shuffling) in speech, gait; you might also see slurred speech.
Who can get Parkinson’s?
It is estimated that about 4 -5 million people worldwide, are living with Parkinson’s. The disease is seen to appear after the age of 60 but can develop earlier (around 40 years of age) also.
What are the causes of Parkinson’s?
The exact cause for Parkinson’s is not known but it is said the disease develops when nerve cells that produce dopamine (neurotransmitter or in simple term, chemical messenger) begins to deteriorate and die. The function of dopamine is to carry signals to those parts of the brain that control movement. The symptoms of the disease appear after quite a large number of cells that produce dopamine die; thus leaving too few cells to produce the NT, and resulting in deficiency of the neurotransmitter in the brain.
Some factors that can play a role in whether you may or may not get Parkinson’s later in life are:
Genes –Scientists have found that certain specific mutations in genes can cause Parkinson’s. But this happens mostly when the disease runs in the family.
Environmental Factors –Getting exposed to toxins or certain environmental factors can put you at risk of the disease later in life. However, the risk is not as high.
Sex – Men are at a higher risk of the disease than women
What are the symptoms and prognosis?
The symptoms include tremors, stammering, change in gait (as mentioned above). The initial symptoms develop gradually, at times it starts with a barely visible tremors on one of the hands. The tremors on the hand are the most well-known sign of the Parkinson’s; you should also know that the disorder also causes slowing of movement, stiffness. Some other symptoms include:
Early stage of Parkinson's – the face can be expressionless, the arms may not actually swing when walking; slurred speech are symptoms commonly seen. Over time, the symptoms worsen over time, slowly. Severity of the symptoms and the progress varies from one patient to another.
Advanced stage: People might not be able to walk or take care of themselves. There might also be non-motor symptoms such as depression and cognitive dysfunction.
Is Parkinson’s disease fatal? What are the complications that can arise?
Muscle weakness can result in lung problems, resulting in a difficulty to cough or swallow. At times, the person with Parkinson’s might be affected by pneumonia. However, the leading cause of death in most Parkinson’s patients was found to be aspiration pneumonia. In this case, bits of food or liquid that have not been swallowed properly, thus ending up in the lungs and prove fatal.
The disease is usually seen to be accompanied by a few other problems, these can be treated though.
- Depression: People with Parkinson's disease may experience depression. Receiving treatment for depression can make it easier to handle the other challenges of Parkinson's disease. There might also be other emotional changes like anxiety, fear, lack of motivation.
- Cognitive Function difficulties –There might be cognitive problems such as dementia and also difficulty in thinking. These might occur at a later stage of the disease.
- Sleep disorders –Parkinson’s patients can have sleep problems such as frequently waking up at night, early rising or sleeping in the daytime. There might also be rapid eye movement sleep behaviour (acting out the dreams) Medications can be used to treat this.
- Bladder problems –problems that affect bladder control or difficulty in passing urine can be seen
- Constipation –Due to a sluggish digestive tract, patients can develop constipation.
- Changes in blood pressure –There might be a sudden change in blood pressure leaving the patient feeling light-headed or dizzy.
- Inability to differentiate smell – Difficulty in recognising certain smells/odours or differentiating between smells
Is there a cure for Parkinson’s disease?
As of today, there is no cure for Parkinson’s. However, there is a wide range of treatment methods, right from medications that can affect the level of dopamine in the blood to surgically implanted tremor-blocking device. Also, occupational and physiotherapy can also benefit the patients.
So, with this, we hope you would have gained some insight about the disease. Did you have any experience being a care-giver of a family member with Parkinson's? Do let us know your story.
by Hridya Anand
A biochemist by education who could never put what she studied to good use, finally found GetDoc as a medium to do what she loved - bring information to people using a forum that is dedicated to all things medical. View all articles by Hridya Anand.