Having been identified by an English physician named James Parkinson and described in an essay in 1817, Parkinson’s disease is often called Parkinson disease or PD and it is a degenerative rather than an infectious disease of the central nervous system of the brain. Parkinson’s disease is also a chronic and progressive disease that impairs the gross and the fine motor skills (learned movements), speech as well as other functions of the body.
Parkinson’s disease is in itself the most prevalent cause for a chronic and progressive syndrome known as Parkinsonism which is characterized by tremors, bradykinesa, imbalance and postural instability. For that reason, Parkinson’s disease is also known as primary Parkinsonism or as the idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.
Other similar disorders that belong to a group of diseases that is called Parkinson-plus include: multiples system atrophy (MSM), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), corticobasal degeneration (CBD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). These Parkinson-plus diseases are differentiated from Parkinson’s disease by their more rapid progression at earlier stages and by the severity of their symptoms.
Most Common Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Being part of a group of medical conditions known as movement disorders, the advancement of Parkinson’s disease is slow and its tell tale signs are quite inconspicuous in the beginning stages. When the symptoms finally appear they are mild at first but will worsen progressively over time. The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by lowered production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is formed within the dopaminergic neurons of the brain. This, in turn, reduces stimulation of the motor cortex by the basal ganglia.
The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are: tremors of the limbs when they are at rest; rigidity of the muscles; painful contractions of muscles in lower limbs; slowing and freezing of physical movements (bradykinesia); in the more severe case, physical movements are completely lost (akinesia); loss of facial expressions (hypomimia) with infrequent blinking of the eyes; arms stop swing when walking and feet shuffle; turning with the upper body remaining rigid and immobile; acquiring a forward stoop which leads to frequent falls; continuous drooling and difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia); inability to sit still (akathisia); and speech becomes softer, monotonic and markedly mumbled.
The secondary symptoms during the more advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease usually lead to severe dysfunction in cognitive thought processes and language skills which are made evident by slow reaction time, difficulties in performing common tasks and experiencing dementia and loss of memory along with hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.
Causes and Risks of Parkinson’s Disease
Although there are those in the medical field who believe that Parkinson’s disease may be caused by genetic mutations, head traumas, environmental toxins, drugs, and seriously decreased oxygen levels in the cerebral brain (anoxia); most still consider Parkinson’s to be idiopathic or having no known cause.
Risk factors of the disease have been historically attributed to:
1/Age. Parkinson’s disease most frequently begins to develop in the late 50s or older and its propensity increases proportionately with increased age. It is exceedingly unusual to see it in younger individuals.
2/ Heredity. Individuals who have close relatives with Parkinson’s disease are more likely to develop it although the risk is below five percent.
3/ Gender. Men are more prone to developing Parkinson’s disease than are women.
4/ Environmental Toxins. Prolonged and continual exposure to herbicides and pesticides is known to increase the chances of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
With a well balanced drug routine and a few lifestyle changes, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be kept in check. Medications replace the deficient dopamine in the brain and help with walking, movements and tremors. The most popular among the available medications are: levodopa which goes directly into the brain and converts to dopamine, the dopamine agonists drugs imitate the functions of dopamine, MAO B inhibitors protect dopamine from breaking down, anticholinergics control tremors, and antivirals alleviate the mild early symptoms of the disease.
In the most extreme and advanced cases and where medications are inadequate, brain surgery may be prescribed. This involves the implantation of an electrode to stimulate that part of the brain which controls movements.
Exercise and physical therapy is highly recommended to Parkinson’s disease patients. This will improve their muscle strength and tone, increase their mobility and range of motion as well as gain them more confidence. Equally important is a well balanced diet of plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.