What Is Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinsons disease occurs when brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that coordinates movement, stop working or die. Because PD can cause tremor, slowness, stiffness, and walking and balance problems, it is called a movement disorder. But constipation, depression, memory problems and other non-movement symptoms also can be part of Parkinsons. PD is a lifelong and progressive disease, which means that symptoms slowly worsen over time.
The experience of living with Parkinson’s over the course of a lifetime is unique to each person. As symptoms and progression vary from person to person, neither you nor your doctor can predict which symptoms you will get, when you will get them or how severe they will be. Even though broad paths of similarity are observed among individuals with PD as the disease progresses, there is no guarantee you will experience what you see in others.
Estimates suggest that Parkinsons affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and more than 6 million people worldwide.
For an in-depth guide to navigating Parkinsons disease and living well as the disease progresses, check out our Parkinsons 360 toolkit.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Dr. Rachel Dolhun, a movement disorder specialist and vice president of medical communications at The Michael J. Fox Foundation, breaks down the basics of Parkinson’s.
What Is The Prognosis And Life Expectancy For Parkinson’s Disease
The severity of Parkinson’s disease symptoms and signs vary greatly from person to person, and it is not possible to predict how quickly the disease will progress.
- Parkinson’s disease itself is not a fatal disease, and the average life expectancy is similar to that of people without the disease.
- Secondary complications, such as pneumonia, falling-related injuries, and choking can lead to death.
- Many treatment options can reduce some of the symptoms and prolong the quality of life.
Incidence Of Parkinsons Disease
Its estimated that approximately four people per 1,000 in Australia have Parkinsons disease, with the incidence increasing to one in 100 over the age of 60. In Australia, there are approximately 80,000 people living with Parkinsons disease, with one in five of these people being diagnosed before the age of 50. In Victoria, more than 2,225 people are newly diagnosed with Parkinsons every year.
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Response To Parkinsons Drugs
After examining you, and depending on the severity of your symptoms, your specialist may suggest you take medication for Parkinsons. If your symptoms improve after taking Parkinsons medication for a few weeks or months, your specialist may confirm a Parkinsons diagnosis. However, some people with other forms of parkinsonism will also respond well to these drugs.
Your specialist may suggest you have a scan to help make a diagnosis. However, scans alone cant make a definite diagnosis of Parkinsons, so they are not commonly used.
Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease
The symptoms and rate of progression of Parkinsons are different among individuals. Effects of normal aging are sometimes confused for Parkinsons. It is difficult to accurately diagnose this disease because there is not a test that can accurately do it.
There are physical and non-physical symptoms that could indicate someone has Parkinsons disease:
Early stage symptoms
Parkinson’s disease occurs gradually. At first, the symptoms might not even be noticeable. Early symptoms can include feeling mild tremors or having difficulty getting out of bed or a chair. The person might start to notice that they are speaking softer than usual, or that their handwriting looks different.
Usually, it is friends or family members who are the first to notice changes in someone with early Parkinson’s. For example, they may notice that the person’s face lacks expression and animation, or that the person does not move an arm or leg normally.
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Do People Actually Lose Their Sense Of Smell With Parkinson’s
A: Yes. It’s a condition called anosmia, and if you have it with no other disease , you have at least a 50 percent chance of developing Parkinson’s disease in the next five to 10 years. What happens is that alpha-synuclein, the protein that clumps in the part of the brain that regulates dopamine and leads to Parkinson’s disease, also aggregates in the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for your sense of smell. This happens well before the protein accumulations cause motor symptoms.
What Parkinsons Diagnosis Criteria Do Doctors Use
Until the 1980s, there was no formal diagnostic criteria for Parkinsons disease. Beginning with James Parkinsons 1817 article, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, and Margaret Hoehn and Melvin Yahrs description of the five stages of motor progression in 1967, scientists focused on the unique ways Parkinsons disease affects movement. A few scientists also noted non-motor symptoms like issues with automatic body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure.
With the discovery in the 1950s of levodopa, a drug that gets turned into dopamine in your brain and thus replaces some of the dopamine that is lost due to PD, and the discovery of how dramatically levodopa improves motor symptoms, the medical community continued to focus more of their efforts on defining and treating Parkinsons as a motor condition.7
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How Is Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosed
Diagnosis is difficult at every stage of the disease, but particularly in the early stages. No single test can provide a diagnosis. A diagnosis will likely involve physical and neurological examinations, conducted over time to assess changes in reflexes, coordination, muscle strength, and mental function. Your doctor might also see how you respond to medicine.
You may need to have brain imaging tests to rule out other conditions that might be causing your symptoms. Such tests could include MRI and CT scans and possibly some other types of scans. Blood tests may also be done to exclude other illnesses.
What Are The Secondary Symptoms Of Parkinsons Disease
The primary symptoms of the Parkinsons disease have to be obviously movement related and lose of muscles control. Since it is a neurodegenerative disease, continued damage to brain leads to secondary symptoms which vary in severity and people-
- Feelings of insecurity, anxiety and stress.
- Loss of memory, confusion and dementia.
- Erectile dysfunction or ED in men.
- Speech problems.
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What Is The Prevalence
It is estimated that about 10 million people worldwide are living with PD. The incidence of the disease is higher in industrialized countries.3,4
The incidence of PD increases with age: while PD affects 1 percent of the population over the age of 60, this increases to 5 percent of the population over the age of 85.1
Approximately 5 percent of people with PD are diagnosed before the age of 60.1
What Causes Parkinsons Symptoms
The underlying cause of Parkinsons symptoms relates to a decline in the production of a brain chemical called dopamine. Many of the cells which produce dopamine are in the Basal Ganglia located in the middle of the brain. This lack of dopamine means people can have difficulty controlling their movements and moving freely.
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How Do You Get Parkinsons Disease
A patient gets Parkinsons disease due to degeneration or destruction of the nerve cells which produce dopamine. Absence of the neurotransmitter called dopamine makes it difficult for the brain to control and coordinate muscle movements which in turn produces symptoms of tremors. It must be remembered that Parkinsons disease is a progressive neurological disorder.
There are no particularly specific tests that confirm the presence of Parkinsons disease. Once the patience comes with the symptoms, the doctor usually takes the physical history of the patient. His way of walking and level of cognition is assessed. The doctor then may ask the patient to go for certain tests like-
Blood Test- The blood test is usually done in order to rule out any other condition responsible for the symptoms of motor instability. Such conditions may include lever damage or abnormal thyroid level.
PET Scan- PET scan may help in the detection of low levels of dopamine in the brain at times. PET scans are highly specialized imaging technique, which uses substances which are radioactive in nature to create three dimensional images of the substances in the body.
Causes Of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinsons occurs when neurons in the part of the brain that control body movement become impaired or die. These neurons are responsible for creating dopamine, an important brain chemical that is vital for normal body function.
With fewer of these neurons in the brain, insufficient dopamine is created. Scientists are still not sure what exactly causes these neurons to become impaired or die.
People with Parkinsons also lose nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, the chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system that controls heart rate and blood pressure. This could be why fatigue and a decrease in blood pressure regularly occur with people who have Parkinsons.
While there have been cases of the disease that appear to be hereditary and can be traced to specific genetic mutations, there isnt enough evidence yet to conclusively prove it is passed down from parents to their children.
Most cases of Parkinsons occur randomly, and researchers believe a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible.
Parkinson’s Disease Diet And Nutrition
Maintaining Your Weight With Parkinson’s Disease
Malnutrition and weight maintenance is often an issue for people with Parkinson’s disease. Here are some tips to help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Weigh yourself once or twice a week, unless your doctor recommends weighing yourself often. If you are taking diuretics or steroids, such as prednisone, you should weigh yourself daily.
- If you have an unexplained weight gain or loss , contact your doctor. He or she may want to modify your food or fluid intake to help manage your condition.
- Avoid low-fat or low-calorie products. . Use whole milk, whole milk cheese, and yogurt.
Surgery And Deep Brain Stimulation
Deep brain stimulation is a treatment for Parkinsonâs disease that uses an implantable pacemaker-like device to deliver electrical pulses to parts of the brain involved in movement. The DBS system consists of leads precisely inserted into a specific brain target, the neurostimulator implanted in the chest, and extension wires that connect the leads to the neurostimulator. Though implantation of the system requires a neurosurgical procedure, the treatment itself consists of long-term electrical stimulation. Advantages of DBS include its ability to reduce the high doses of medications , its adjustability , and its reversibility DBS was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for PD in 2002 and according to Medtronic , more than 80,000 patients have undergone DBS surgery worldwide.
Typical candidates are those who have motor fluctuations or periods of âoffâ time with troublesome symptoms alternating with periods of âonâ time with good symptom control, and also with possible periods of excessive movement .
Not all patients with Parkinsonâs disease are good candidates for treatment with DBS. Approximately 10â20% of patients considered for possible treatment with DBS include those:
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Is Parkinsons Disease Inherited
Scientists have discovered gene mutations that are associated with Parkinsons disease.
There is some belief that some cases of early-onset Parkinsons disease disease starting before age 50 may be inherited. Scientists identified a gene mutation in people with Parkinsons disease whose brains contain Lewy bodies, which are clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein. Scientists are trying to understand the function of this protein and its relationship to genetic mutations that are sometimes seen in Parkinsons disease and in people with a type of dementia called Lewy body dementia.
Several other gene mutations have been found to play a role in Parkinsons disease. Mutations in these genes cause abnormal cell functioning, which affects the nerve cells ability to release dopamine and causes nerve cell death. Researchers are still trying to discover what causes these genes to mutate in order to understand how gene mutations influence the development of Parkinsons disease.
Scientists think that about 10% to 15% of persons with Parkinsons disease may have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to development of the disease. There are also environmental factors involved that are not fully understood.
What Is Essential Tremor And How Is It Different To A Parkinsons Tremor
A tremor is a rhythmical, involuntary movement that affects a part of the body, such as the hand.
Essential tremor is the most common type of tremor. Its most noticeable when your hands are doing something and it usually affects both the right and left sides of the body equally. Essential tremors often lessen when your body is resting.
Unlike an essential tremor, a Parkinsons tremor is most obvious when the affected body part is resting and tends to be less noticeable with movement. It usually starts on one side of the body and may progress to the other side as Parkinsons develops.
The time it takes to get a diagnosis can vary from person to person. Some people may receive a diagnosis of Parkinsons quite quickly, but for others it may be a long process. This can be due to a number of things, including your medical history, your age and what symptoms you have.
Your specialist may wish to rule out other causes of your symptoms first and see how you respond to treatment. This may take some time, and, as already mentioned, there is currently no definitive test for Parkinsons.
How you respond to treatment may help your specialist make a diagnosis. Keeping a diary or record of your symptoms will give the specialist more information to guide their decision.
Because the symptoms of Parkinsons are sometimes similar to other forms of parkinsonism, people can sometimes be misdiagnosed.
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Symptoms Of Parkinsons Disease
Parkinson’s disease has four main symptoms:
- Tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls
Symptoms of Parkinsons and the rate of progression differ among individuals. Sometimes people dismiss early symptoms of Parkinson’s as the effects of normal aging. In most cases, there are no medical tests to definitively detect the disease, so it can be difficult to diagnose accurately.
Early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and occur gradually. For example, affected people may feel mild tremors or have difficulty getting out of a chair. They may notice that they speak too softly, or that their handwriting is slow and looks cramped or small. Friends or family members may be the first to notice changes in someone with early Parkinson’s. They may see that the person’s face lacks expression and animation, or that the person does not move an arm or leg normally.
People with Parkinson’s often develop a parkinsonian gait that includes a tendency to lean forward, small quick steps as if hurrying forward, and reduced swinging of the arms. They also may have trouble initiating or continuing movement.
Be Honest With Yourself And Your Doctor
It is important to discuss alcohol consumption with your doctor to make sure you are approaching it safely. Elements of PD, including motor symptoms such as bradykinesia and dyskinesia , will vary from person to person, so its important to make decisions based on your medical history.
Taking into account environmental factors such as how central alcohol is to your social life can affect the decisions you make. Be honest with your doctor about your habits and preferences remember, your doctor wants to work with you to make your symptoms as manageable as possible, not to judge or shame you.
As you decide how alcohol may fit into your life post-diagnosis lifestyle, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of alcoholic beverage, your other risk factors, and your neurologists recommendations specific to your medical history. Most importantly, monitor how you feel when you drink alcohol and be willing to have open and honest conversations about drinking with your doctor and other important people in your life.
I am not even a big drinker, but miss the odd one, wrote a MyParkinsonsTeam member. So, I had an alcohol-free beer, which tasted OK, to be honest.
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Tom Thought That Because Some Pink Tablets Relieved His Symptoms This Meant He Was Ok He Didn’t
I first suspected there was something wrong when I was travelling and I was writing a postcard to a friend of mine in, in Australia whose name is Anthony Diecopolis. And, and I got to the Anthony Diec and I couldnt finish the opolis. And its very strange my hand had sort of gone into a sort of spasm and it just wouldnt, wouldnt finish writing the, the, the word. And so thats a bit strange.
And so I went when, when I got I, I went to the doctor and said, What on earths going on? And I had since then Id also developed this slight tremor in my right hand. He said, Well its probably, Essential Tremor or trapped nerve or something like that. And anyway, then it got a bit worse and then I was, I was recommended to go to a neurologist. And the neurologist had a look at me and gave me some pills. And he said, Come back and tell me if these work.
This is about, about sort of, nine months after my, my not being able to finish the, the postcard. And, and he said, Take these pills. And the pills worked. Magically the tremors stopped and I thought this is wonderful. And so I went back to the neurologist and I said, Yes everythings fine now. The pills have, the pills have worked. And far from looking happy about this he looked rather, rather grave and he said, I think youd better go to another neurologist.