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What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive brain disorder which will worsen over time that typically results in one having difficulty with walking, balance, coordination as well as stiffness in the body. When the disease begins to worsen, some people may start having problems which affect their mental state and personality - For example, they may not be able to sleep well at night, or have depression, tiredness, or difficulties remembering things.

Both men and women might have Parkinson's, but around 50% more men than women get the disease.

An elderly couple forgetting their stuff

Symptoms usually start gradually, perhaps with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand, or slight difficulty with balance, but will likely worsen as time passes. Additionally, most people with the disease typically only receive their diagnosis around 1 month after their symptoms first start, as initial symptoms tend to overlap with other diseases, or may be assumed to be a part of regular ageing.

What are the causes of Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is very closely related to Dopamine (a hormone). There are millions of neurons (nerve cells) in your brain. Some of these cells produce an important hormone called dopamine.

However, in Parkinson's disease, some of these neurons die, which means that less dopamine is produced. This results in abnormal brain activity, which eventually can cause problems in movement and other symptoms associated with the disease.

However, doctors are still unsure of what causes these dopamine-producing cells to die, and research is still ongoing to solve this problem.

Diagram showing brain cells with Lewy bodies

Another interesting point to note is that people with the disease have a large number of brain cells that contain Lewy bodies, which are unusual clumps of a certain protein known as alpha-synuclein. Again, research is still being done to learn more about the relationship between the protein and how it affects Parkinson's.

As a whole, most researchers agree that the disease is due to a combination of genetic and environmental (exposure to toxins, for example) factors. Some cases of the disease seem to be passed down through the family line, and there have been a few which have been directly linked to specific gene mutations, but the disease mostly happens randomly and is not hereditary.

What are the Risk Factors?

  • Age (the biggest risk factor for Parkinson's - most people get the disease around 60 years old)
  • Gender (Men are at a higher risk than women)
  • Genetics (People with a parent or sibling are around 2x more likely to get Parkinson's)
  • Environmental causes (exposure to certain toxins in chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals or detergents may increase your risk of contracting the disease)
  • Head trauma (Repeated hits to the head can increase your risk, athletes who participate in contact sports have been found to have increased risk of Parkinson's disease)

What is the diagnosis like for Parkinson's?

Currently, diagnosis of Parkinson's mainly remains clinical, which means that doctors mainly use your symptoms to achieve a diagnosis. There is no current medical test to ascertain that someone definitely has the disease.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

There are certain physical symptoms that the doctor will look out for to make a diagnosis.

  • tremor (shaking) of hand or foot which stops when the patient moves that part of the body
  • slowness of body, face, legs or arms
  • stiffness in body, arms or legs
  • balancing problems and falls

In the clinic, the doctor will:

  • ask the patient about their medical history and do a physical examination
  • ask about medication (some medicine can cause symptoms which are very close to that of Parkinson's)
  • do a neurological test (the doctor will test agility, muscle tone, the way they walk (gait), and balance)

What are the Complications?

  • difficulties with thinking
  • emotional changes and/or depression
  • problems with chewing or swallowing
  • sleep problems
  • bladder problems (difficulty urinating or not being able to control when you urinate)
  • not being able to defecate regularly (constipation)
  • changes in blood pressure (sudden dizziness)
  • tiredness
  • pain
  • not being able to smell certain things
  • decreased sex drive or performance

For more information or if you require a medical consultation, please contact My Healthcare Collective here.