Managing Parkinson’s Disease: Understanding Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Posted On: February 27, 2018
Parkinson’s disease is defined as the disorder of human nervous system. It is known to develop gradually and also tends to affect the different movements as carried by your body, including the basic ones such as writing, walking and speaking.
The precise cause of Parkinson’s disease is not known as of yet. Research is being done around the globe to figure out the possible reason behind this disorder. It has been revealed that Parkinson’s disease normally occurs when your nerve cells in the brain experience a problem. These nerve cells are responsible for producing a crucial chemical called Dopamine.
The dopamine does the work of sending signals to your brain and part which holds control of your different body movements. When you develop Parkinson’s disease, these dopamine-producing nerve cells break down and hamper the production of dopamine. With lesser or of dopamine produced, your movement will get impaired and you will face trouble in walking, writing, speaking or moving the way you used to do earlier.
Which age group is more affected by Parkinson’s disease?
Most of the instances of Parkinson's disease are known to occur after the age of 50. However, in some rare cases, Parkinson’s disease has been seen occurring in people who are in the age bracket of 30 and 50. And sometimes, people get Parkinson’s disease at a very young age too; however, this happens very rarely. Usually, the affected people are among the older adults.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease will vary from individual to individual. It is not necessary for two individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease to have common symptoms.
And as Parkinson’s disease develops gradually, the symptoms of the disease also surface slowly. If you experience any of the Parkinson’s symptoms, it is not necessary that you have it because the symptoms are very general and can be associated with any other health condition.
It becomes a matter of serious concern when you exhibit more than one symptom and that too very frequently. To see if you or your loved ones are suffering from Parkinson’s disease, you should look for the below-mentioned symptoms:
Tremor: One of the first signs to surface, tremors are marked to be the initial stage of Parkinson’s disease. You will experience shivering in your legs and hands. Often, the tremors will mostly be limited to one side of your body. While it is pretty normal to experience shivers occasionally when you undertake any exercise or are stressed. But it becomes a cause of worry when the tremors occur even when the body is at rest.
Loss of smell: As the disease progresses, you will lose the sense of smell. You will notice that you fail to recognize the smell of common food items or products. Your sense of smell gets affected normally when you have a cold or flu, and once the conditions get cured, you regain your ability to smell. However, in case of Parkinson’s disease, you will not be able to get that power back.
Slowed movement (Bradykinesia): Further progression of the disease will start affecting your movements. You will lose your ability to move around freely. You will see a considerable reduction in your movement and speed. The work you used to do at quick pace earlier will now seem to be taking forever to get completed. No matter how small the task is, Parkinson’s disease will slow down the time you take to complete the activity. You will start doing things slowly, while walking also, you will take shorter steps and doing the most simplest of tasks as getting up from a chair would get difficult. You may require support to do many of the activities.
Changes to handwriting: Another visible sign of Parkinson’s disease is the change in handwriting you experience. You will notice that your handwriting has changed a lot from the past. You may start writing smaller letters as compared to what you were writing before. Moreover, the words can also appear crowded. Known as micrographia, changes in handwriting is considered to be the most prominent sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Rigid muscles: Along with limited motion, you will notice that your muscles have turned very stiff. This stiffness in the muscles will limit the body’s movement further. The muscle stiffness can occur in any body part. It will not just limit your movement but will even make you experience some pain, which could be mild or severe based on your condition.
Trouble sleeping: Tossing and turning when sleeping is pretty normal. But if you are suffering from Parkinson’s disease then you will experience more sleep-related troubles. You may thrash around in the bed or even act out the dreams even while you are deeply asleep.
Impaired posture and balance: Furthermore, as the disease progresses, the posture of your body will become stooped and you may find it very tough to maintain the balance of your body.
Changes in your speech: Slowly you will start noticing changes in your speech. Due to Parkinson’s disease, you will start talking very softly, slowly or very speedily. Sometimes, you will have hesitation while speaking.
Causes of Parkinson’s disease
As stated above, the exact cause of Parkinson's disease is still being researched by medical researchers across the globe. The only thing known is that Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the damage occurring to dopamine-producing nerve cells in your brain. However, what leads to this damage is not known.
But there are certain risk factors that subject you to Parkinson’s disease. Some of the commonly associated risk factors with the disease are:
Growing age - There are very rare cases of Parkinson’s disease that occurred in younger people. It usually develops in people who are above the age bracket of 30, and more precisely, age 50. The risk stays higher in older people as their genes and environment factors get affected with advancing age.
Genes - Another risk factor involved with Parkinson’s disease happen to be your genes. Changes in the genes, also known as genetic mutations, can subject you to this disease. Moreover, if your family has a history of Parkinson’s disease, then you will be at a higher risk of suffering from this disorder.
Environmental triggers - Being exposed to various toxins or environmental factors can contribute in increasing the risk of Parkinson's disease. People who are into agricultural work often are at higher risk because they are exposed to the different environmental toxins as pesticide or herbicide. Some toxins as found in the pesticides and herbicides affect the production of dopamine while also speeding up free radical damage.
Gender - Both men and women can suffer from Parkinson’s disease but research and findings have proved that as compared to females, males are likelier to get Parkinson's disease. This is because men are considered to be at an increased risk of exposure to environmental factors like toxins or head trauma.
Falling levels of Estrogen - The levels of estrogen decline in females once they attain menopause. And if they do not opt for any hormone replacement therapy then they stand at greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The risk will be equally high in people with case of hysterectomies.
Lower levels of B vitamin folate - Researchers have discovered that lower levels of vitamin B, folate can also subject you to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease.
Head Trauma - According to some of the recently conducted studies, there has been a link found between the injuries occurring to neck, head or the upper cervical spine.
Complications Associated with Parkinson’s disease
In the initial stages, Parkinson's disease typically affects the movements of your body. However, if the treatment is delayed or proper medical care is not provided, the problems can become complex and subject you to different problems. Some of these complications include:
Thinking troubles - Some people with Parkinson’s disease can experience cognitive problems, known as dementia and thinking problems. These complications appear in the later stages of the Parkinson's disease.
Swallowing problems - You can even tend to develop difficulties in swallowing. As swallowing slows down, the saliva will accumulate in the mouth which will lead to drooling.
Sleep disorders - You may even experience sleep disorders, which will include waking up periodically throughout the night, waking up earlier than you usually do or falling asleep in the daytime. You can get over the sleep problems by taking the right medicine; however, you need to be precise with the sleep problem you are facing.
Depression and emotional changes - In some cases, people undergo depression owing to the disease. There can be other emotional troubles including anxiety, fear or reduced motivation. If you experience any of these emotional changes, you will be prescribed medicines to overcome the symptoms.
Smell dysfunction - In many cases of Parkinson’s disease, losing the sense of smell is quite common. You may find it hard to identify certain odors or differentiate odors.
Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease
There are no precise tests that can help in diagnose the Parkinson's disease. The problem will be diagnosed by a doctor who’s trained in treating conditions of the nervous system (Neurologist). When diagnosed with the Parkinson's disease, the doctor will consider your medical history, analyse the signs and symptoms, and then recommend a neurological as well as physical examination.
As many of the Parkinson’s disease symptoms happen to be common in other health disorders too, the doctor will first suggest tests in order to rule out the possibility of any other health condition. For this, you will be suggested some blood tests and imaging tests like brain ultrasound, MRI, PET scans and SPECT. These tests help in identifying if your disorder is occurring because of Parkinson’s or any other problem.
Other than the examination, the doctor will even recommend carbidopa-levodopa, which is a common Parkinson's disease medication. You will be given an adequate dosage so as to help you reap the benefit. A low dosage given in a day or two will not be reliable. If there is prominent improvement in your health with this medication, the further diagnosis of Parkinson's disease will get affected.
In certain cases, Parkinson’s disease gets diagnosed at a very later stage. This is reason why Neurologists will recommend undergoing regular follow-up.
Treatment Options for Parkinson’s disease
There is no permanent cure for Parkinson’s disease. Efforts can be made to manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life. Mainly it involves medications and surgeries.
Doctors recommend medications for Parkinson’s which is mainly targeted at helping you manage the different problems that come with Parkinson’s disease such as walking, tremor and movement. These medicines help increase or substitute dopamine.
In Parkinson’s disease, people usually have low concentration of brain dopamine. But dopamine can’t be administered directly, as it will never enter the brain. Drugs help in transporting the required dopamine amount to your brain.
As you start taking the medication for Parkinson’s disease, you’ll see improvement in the problems you generally start facing after developing Parkinson’s disease. As you continue with the medication, the effectiveness of the medicines will tend to decline. But the symptoms can be controlled without much difficulty.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
When medicines lose out on their effectiveness, your doctor will recommend you to undergo surgical procedures. One such surgical procedure is the deep brain stimulation wherein the Neurosurgeon will implant electrodes into a particular part of the brain.
These electrodes as implanted in the brain are connected to a generator which will be implanted in your chest; near the collarbone and works by sending the electrical pulses to the brain which helps in reducing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Surgical process comes with its share of risks like stroke, infections, or brain haemorrhage. Deep brain stimulation is mostly given to people who have reached the advanced stage of Parkinson's disease and have been responding unstably to the medication (levodopa). DBS helps stabilize the fluctuations in medication, reducing or stopping the involuntary movements (dyskinesias), reducing the incidence and intensity of tremor, rigidity, and improving the slow down of movements.
While deep brain stimulation proves helpful in improving the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, it doesn’t really help in preventing the progression of the disease.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Upon getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you will have to see that you get the ideal treatment plan which can help in alleviating the symptoms.
Along with medications, surgical processes and different other treatment options; you can even improve your symptoms and get relief from the side effects by making suitable changes to your lifestyle.
Eating healthy: There are no precise foods that can help or prevent Parkinson’s disease. But eating certain food type can help in easing some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. You should consider eating more of fibre rich foods and drinking good amount of liquid. This helps in preventing constipation which commonly occurs in Parkinson’s disease. Eating a healthy and balanced diet even gives you the required amount of nutrients as omega-3 fatty acids.
Exercise: Regular exercise routine can help in boosting the muscle strength, flexibility as well as body balance. Exercise even aids in improving your overall well-being and diminishing the feelings of depression or anxiety; which are quite common with Parkinson’s disease. You can indulge in various exercise forms as gardening, swimming, walking, dancing, and stretching and water aerobics. As Parkinson’s disease affects your body’s balance, exercising can help in improving it. To improve body balance, you should not try doing:
- Move very speedily
- Make your heel strike the floor first when walking
- Look directly down when walking
As you reach further stages of Parkinson’s disease, you may become susceptible to falls. To keep your body from falling, you should;
- Make a U-turn rather than pivoting the body over the feet
- Avoid leaning
- Distribute the body weight evenly between both your feet
- Avoid walking backwards
Alternative Methods to Improve Quality of Life
Even along with recommended medications, you should opt for certain alternative methods to manage your symptoms and improve the quality of life.
Some of these methods include:
Massage: A massage therapy in general helps in improving your body’s functioning as it improves the blood circulation. In case of Parkinson’s disease, a massage therapy will help in reducing the muscle tension that builds up, causing stiffness. It can even promote relaxation, both physically and mentally.
Yoga: The different poses as involved in yoga can help in improving the body flexibility and balance. The gentle stretching movements can further improve the functioning of your body muscles and allow you to undertake various physical activities with ease.
Tai chi: It is an ancient exercise from China. Tai chi involves using slow, streaming motions that will help in improving your body’s flexibility, while also enhancing the balance and muscle strength. The common problem of fall, which is observed in many people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, can be easily improved with the help of Tai chi. There are different Tai chi forms available that can help people of different age group and physical condition.
Meditation: This form of exercise is known to relieve stress and infuse relaxation in your body. In case of Parkinson’s disease also, meditation can help in managing stress and improving the concentration power. Moreover, meditation can take care of your overall health and well-being.
Acupuncture: The tiny needles that are inserted into particular parts of your body can help in minimizing the pain, improving the nervous system dysfunction as well as mental illness.
Music and art therapy: Activities that involve any form or art or music are always relaxing and soothing. In people with Parkinson’s disease, music therapy can help in improving the walk and speech. If you are fond of art activities like painting or clay work, spending some time doing them can boost your mood and provide great relaxation.
Pet therapy: People with Parkinson’s disease are often advised to keep a pet at home; be it a dog or cat. This helps in improving the body’s flexibility as well as enhances your body movement and emotional health.
With the increased life expectancy, the cases of Parkinson’s are estimated to see a significant rise. And while there stand no permanent cure, reaching out to thorough experts can help in improving the symptoms as well as quality of life.
Making the suggested lifestyle changes, particularly ongoing aerobic exercise can be of great help in managing the disease symptoms. Physical therapy focused at body balancing and stretching can also go long way in controlling the symptoms. For problems related to speech troubles, consulting a speech therapist can help.
At Shalby Hospitals Ahmedabad, we bring to you quality medical care for Parkinson’s disease under the expert guidance of our Neurologists and associated disciplines. Depending on the patient’s needs and the case, our doctors customize the treatment plan for better results and improved health.
For more details on new treatment for Parkinson’s disease, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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