Parkinson’s disease causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and stages
What is Parkinson’s disease? It is a common neurodegenerative disorder where you start noticing movement disorders. So, are there any early signs of Parkinson’s disease? Yes, you can catch the disease early by keeping a close tab on some of the characteristics such as progressive loss of muscle control, trembling of limbs and head even when at rest, slowness in movements, stiffness, and also impaired balance. Symptoms get worse as the disease progresses such that patients find it difficult to complete simple tasks such as walking and talking.
Every person with Parkinson’s disease may not have similar symptoms, or the impairment varies from person to person. Some people can live long productive lives, while some people may falter and fumble and capitulate to this debilitating disease.
That’s right, the disease progression varies from person to person and the complications, for example, falling-related injuries or pneumonia can even lead to death. However, there is a glimmer of hope for people suffering from this diseases, a study has revealed that the life expectancy for people with the Parkinsons is the same as the general population.
The disease affects people who fall in the older bracket, (60 years or more). And despite the influx of modern diseases, life expectancy is rising, and consequently, you will find more and more people suffering from this deadly disease. While usually, you will find adults getting affected by this disease, the younger brigade too is falling prey to this disease. Yes, as early as 21-40 years and even before age 21.
So is it a modern disease? No, not really, this disease has been reported in history as far back as 5000 BC. An Ancient civilization even had a name for it, it was known as Kampavata and used plant therapy to get relief from some of the symptoms. The seeds of a plant were used for therapy and that is known as levodopa. A British doctor James Parkinson, first coined the term Parkinsons in 1817 and called it “shaking palsy.”
What are the early and later signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
Primary Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in humans are all linked to involuntary and voluntary motor function and begin from one side of the body. Symptoms worsen over time. Some individuals are more affected than the others. By the time the disease gets diagnosed, individuals usually lose out on the key 60% to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Some of the symptoms are listed below,
Tremors: Patient feels tremors in their feet, hands, arms, jaw, legs, or head. Tremors usually occur when the individual is resting and get worse when the individual is overly tired, excited, or stressed.
Stiffness: Individuals may feel rigidity in their limbs which may usually increase during movement. Rigidity usually causes muscle pains and niggles. Loss of hand movements have other repercussions such as cramped handwriting known as micrographia and may even lead to eating difficulty.
Bradykinesia: This brings a slowness of involuntary movements. As the disease progresses, it is difficult to begin a movement or round off a movement. Bradykinesia, together with stiffness has been said to impact the facial muscles and the person may end up with an expressionless or a mask-like appearance.
Postural instability: Impaired reflexes can make it difficult to maintain reflexes or balance. It also leads to falls.
Parkinsonian gait: Individuals who suffer from Parkinson’s disease have a distinctive shuffling walk, have a stooped gait and lose the arm swing. It is difficult for them to walk and to make sudden turns. Individuals may suddenly stiffen and fall forward while walking.
What are the Secondary Symptoms of Parkinsons Disease
Some of the secondary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are a gradual loss of muscle control and continued damage to the brain can lead to secondary symptoms. These vary in severity, and not every individual will experience all of them. Some of the secondary symptoms include:
What causes Parkinson’s Disease?
When it comes to diseases, finding out the cause is the first step towards treating the disease, but till date, researchers and doctors have been unable to find the cause of the disease. The trouble starts brewing in the brain cells. That part of the brain cells known as the substantia nigra. These cells cause the dopamine chemical to die. Dopamine is like a messenger that communicates with another part of the brain that helps the body to move.
When the dopamine-making cells die, the dopamine level tends to drop. When it gets too low, you can’t control your movements as well and you get the typical Parkinson’s symptoms. Till now scientists have not been able to find out what triggers off the death of the cells. Scientists think sometimes it is the genes and sometimes it is the environment that plays a role.
Do Genes Play a Role? Is Parkinson’s Disease Hereditary?
Your genes have a lot of say on how your health shapes up in the future; well not completely, but it does have an important role to play. A slight change in your genes and your body changes in a different way, or in simpler words, becomes much more likely to get a certain disease.
A slight change in your genes can increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease. Well, the change does not happen overnight, but it does happen bit by bit, like say in about 1 in 10 cases.
If your genes have a role to play, it is not mandatory that it will definitely lead to Parkinson’s, some people will get the disease, some people won’t and sadly doctors have not got any clear explanation for that.
So, can parents pass on the gene to their kids? Only a minuscule portion gets the disease in this way. The chances are about 1 in 100, so it’s rare.
So, does the environment play a role?
It can, but it is a combination of all these factors that what you eat, how you live, your complete lifestyle that plays a role, it is multi-factorial as they say.
What are the stages of Parkinson’s Disease?
Researchers do not agree on the number of stages of the disease, some say there are 3 stages, some say there are 5 stages. The disease is however regarded as a progressive one and that symptoms occur in one stage and may occur in another stage. The stage usually dictates the severity of the disease. Here is a quick review of Parkinson’s Disease Stages as stated by the Parkinson’s Foundation.
Stage 1: Some of the symptoms are tremors and/or movement symptoms such as arm swinging while you perform dynamic tasks such as walking; they do not interfere with your daily activities and can occur on one side.
Stage 2: Symptoms get worse in the second stage and there are walking problems and both sides of the body get affected.
Stage 3: In the third stage there are ample balance problems and slowness of movement.
Stage 4: Patients require help at this stage as symptoms progressively get worse. The person needs constant support.
Stage 5: Patients require caregivers to help for all activities. The individual will have difficulty in standing or walking and may even be required to be bedridden, and may start having hallucinations and delusions.
Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis
Parkinson’s disease diagnosis should be made as early as possible. You can employ specific treatment strategies to maintain a good quality of life as long as possible. But unfortunately, there is no specific test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. It can be diagnosed after the person’s death. If people are lucky enough to get diagnosed early, it can be challenging as Parkinson’s disease have many symptoms in common with other diseases. So, it is important to re-evaluate individuals in the early phase on a regular basis to rule out other conditions that may be responsible for the symptoms.
A neurologist is someone who specializes in movement disorders and is likely to make an accurate diagnosis. First, the history of the patient is assessed, then a neurological examination is carried out, and the evaluation of the symptoms is made. It is important to know whether other people from the patient’s family have had Parkinson’s disease, how they have been treated and whether they have been exposed to toxins or endured head trauma. A neurological examination may include taking a deeper look at some of the fine motor tasks that involve using the hands and also walking.
There have been several guidelines established to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. The Hoehn and Yahr scale is one of them, and there is a Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. Several tests are conducted to gauge the behavior, mental capacity, mood, everyday activities, motor function and so on.
These help in Parkinson’s disease prognosis and rule out the other disorders, and help monitor the progression of the disease, making the required therapeutic adjustments. Sometimes there are other tests done such as Brain scans and some other laboratory tests to differentiate between Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosis done? Well, you have to be wary of the symptoms and have at least two of the three following symptoms.
If you have tremor at rest, muscle rigidity, and a slow gait.
The onset of symptoms starts on one side of the body;
Symptoms are not because of any secondary causes, because of partaking of certain medications or strokes in some areas that impact movements; and
Symptoms improve with levodopa.
Parkinson’s Disease Cure – Is there any Cure?
What is the treatment for Parkinson’s disease currently? Unfortunately, there is no specific Parkinson’s disease medication. There are some medications that can delay the onset of motor symptoms and in some even stop motor symptoms. These therapies are specially designed to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain. This is mainly done by substituting dopamine or mimicking dopamine or stopping the breakdown of dopamine. It is said that medical intervention at early stages can improve quality of life and delay the onset of other secondary symptoms.
The most effective medicine for Parkinson’s is levodopa (Sinemet), which initiates dopamine conversion in the brain. However, levodopa has certain unpleasant side effects (such as painful cramps, delayed response to each dose, and involuntary movements), Levodopa is usually administered to those where motor impairment is more pronounced. Levodopa is often prescribed with another medication, carbidopa (Sinemet). The action of this medication is to prevent levodopa from breaking down before it reaches the brain. Carbidopa helps reduce some of the side effects of levodopa.
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What is the Life Expectancy for Parkinson’s Disease?
The severity of Parkinson’s will vary from person to person, but the average life expectancy may even be similar to that of people without the disease. Some of the secondary complications are injuries, pneumonia, and choking, which can even lead to death. Symptomatic treatment may increase the life expectancy of patients.
Cope with Parkinson’s disease – A Few Important Tips
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease and can affect all aspects of your life, right from social engagements, work, to everyday routine. Gradual loss of independence is a bitter pill to swallow for most. Informing yourself about the disease may help to cope with the disease better. There are some support groups that offer support and help to individuals succumbing to the disease and educate their families about the nitty gritty of the disease. They may even provide information on health practitioners and places where treatment is undertaken. This helps the individual and his/her family members to keep a close tab on the progression of the disease and helps them combat it.