Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive motor system disorder that occurs when certain cells within the brain begin begin to degenerate or break down. In individuals with Parkinson's disease, the cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, gradually breakdown or die. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals to the brain to control movement. As these cells diminish and the dopamine levels decrease, the disease progresses and patients gradually lose control of their movements. While there is no cure currently available for Parkinson's disease, there are treatments available to control symptoms and improve quality of life.

Causes of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is caused by the breakdown of dopamine-producing cells within the brain. The exact cause of Parkinson's disease and why this occurs in some people is unknown, although in some patients it may be linked to abnormal genes. Some research has indicated that it may be the result of exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors. While there is not enough evidence available at at this time to determine the specific cause, statistics indicate that Parkinson's disease most commonly affects men over the age of 50.

Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

Many patients with Parkinson's disease may notice a slight tremor as their initial symptom, which usually begins in one arm or leg and slowly spreads to other areas of the body. Additional symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease may develop over time and may include:

  • Tremors or shaking
  • Stiffness in the muscles
  • Slow movement
  • Difficulty walking or balancing
  • Impaired posture and balance
  • Slurred speech

As the symptoms of Parkinson's disease become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks

Complications of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative and chronic condition, that may eventually lead to serious complications if left untreated. Over time, many patients with this condition may also experience:

  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction

Blood pressure may also be affected by Parkinson's disease and patients may experience pain in specific areas or throughout the body.

Diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease

If Parkinson's disease is suspected, symptoms are reviewed and a physical examination is performed. A neurological exam is also performed to determine how well the nerves are working. There is no definitive diagnostic test for this condition, so diagnosis may include ruling out any other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Treatment of Parkinson's Disease

Although there is no cure available for Parkinson's disease, there are many treatments available to help control symptoms. For most patients, medication is prescribed to increase the brain's supply of dopamine, which helps to control tremors and problems with movement and walking. Levodopa is the most effective medication for Parkinson's disease. This natural substance is converted into dopamine when it passes through the brain. Other medications commonly prescribed for Parkinson's disease may include:

  • Dopamine agonists
  • MAO-B inhibitors
  • Anticholinergics
  • Amantadine

Patients with advanced stages of Parkonson's disease who are not be responding to medication, may benefit from a surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation. During this procedure, electrodes are surgically placed within the brain to deliver electrical stimulation and help control movement. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease may be reduced as a result of this procedure, however, there are risks which may include infection, stroke or brain hemorrhage.

Coping with Parkinson's Disease

It is important for patients with Parkinson's disease to receive regular exercise to increase muscle strength and flexibility and maintain function throughout the body. Physical therapy may also be recommended to assist with exercises to improve mobility, range of motion and muscle tone. Daily activities may become difficult for patients with Parkinson's disease and an occupational therapist may be helpful in guiding them through techniques to make daily tasks and life easier.

It is important for patients with Parkinson's disease to have a strong support system so that they can physically and emotionally cope with the disease. Support from friends and family is important and some patients may benefit from Parkinson's disease support groups.

Additional Resources