Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Certain nerve cells in the brain gradually break down causing a decrease in dopamine levels. It develops gradually, usually beginning with a hand tremor that progresses, as well as stiffness or slowing movement. It often affects one side of the body more than the other. Parkinson’s cannot be cured, but medications and other treatment help.
Signs and Symptoms: Commonly: Tremors of hands (especially when at rest), slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture & balance, loss of automatic movements, speech changes (soft or slurred), writing changes (very small), frozen face, sometimes dementia when advanced. Other Problems (which may be helped with treatment): Thinking difficulties, depression and emotional changes, swallowing problems, sleep disorders, bladder issues, constipation, blood pressure changes, smell dysfunction, fatigue, pain, sexual dysfunction.
Cause & Risk Factors: Cause is unknown, but identified with genetic mutations, presence of Lewy Bodies in the brain, and rarely environmental triggers. Risk factors include Age (usually past middle age), Heredity (may run in families), Sex (men more likely than women), Exposures to toxins (rarely).
Diagnosis: No specific test exists to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease. Tests may be done to rule out other conditions which may be causing the symptoms.
Treatment: Parkinson’s can’t be cured, but medications and life style changes can lessen the symptoms. Deep brain stimulation during surgery has been shown to be helpful, but is most often offered to people with advanced disease not responding to medication. It especially helps with tremors, but does not keep the disease from progressing.
More information: MayoClinic.org or webmd.com (has a good slide show): search for “Parkinson’s Disease”