WHAT IS IT?
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects your movement. It develops gradually, sometimes starting with a small tremor in one hand. The disease also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement. Symptoms typically worsen as the condition progresses.
With Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain gradually break down or die. Most symptoms are due to the loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to signs of Parkinson’s disease.
WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
Several factors appear to play a role, but more research is needed. Risk factors include:
- Genes. Researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease. They’re uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by the disease.
- Environmental triggers. Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.
- Age. Parkinson’s disease ordinarily begins in middle or late life.
- Being male. Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Signs and symptoms may vary from person to person. They may include:
- Tremor. You may first notice mild shaking (tremor) of your hand when it’s relaxed and at rest.
- Slowed movement. Your steps may become shorter when you walk, and you may drag your feet as you try to walk.
- Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body, limiting the range of motion.
- Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems.
- Loss of automatic movements. Your ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling, or swinging your arms when you walk, is decreased.
- Speech changes. You may speak more softly, slur your words, or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more monotonous.
Parkinson’s disease can’t be cured, but medications and other therapies can help control signs and symptoms.
Deep brain stimulation
In this procedure, surgeons implant electrodes into a specific part of your brain. The electrodes, connected to a generator that’s implanted near your collarbone, send electrical pulses to your brain. The pulses help reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms by interfering with abnormal brain activity. Deep brain stimulation is most often offered to people with advanced Parkinson’s disease who have unstable medication responses. The surgery can control erratic and fluctuating responses to levodopa or help control involuntary responses that don’t improve with medication adjustments. The treatment doesn’t keep the disease from progressing.
Certain lifestyle changes may also help make living with Parkinson’s disease easier. Exercise is extremely important. It can increase your muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. Your doctor may suggest you work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise program that works for you.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”.