Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder that occurs when the brain loses cells that produce dopamine. Dopamine helps coordinate chemicals that regulate muscle movements; thus, when this is lost, it affects the ability to smoothly move and control muscles.

Symptoms

The rate at which the disease progresses varies from person to person. The symptoms begin subtly; as they progress, they can affect the ability to walk, talk, or complete every day tasks. Most do not have all the symptoms. Frequently, those close to a person with Parkinson’s disease will notice that something is wrong before the person with the disease does. Changes in gait, loss of expressiveness in the face, and a general sense that something is not quite right can all indicate that Parkinson’s is developing.

There are four main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: tremor, which causes trembling in the limbs, jaw, and face; postural instability, meaning the loss of balance and coordination; slowing down of movement, or bradykinesia; and rigidity, or stiffness in the limbs.

Other symptoms can include emotional changes, including depression, sleep disruptions, skin problems, urinary problems, constipation, and a hard time speaking, chewing, and swallowing.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

There are no laboratory tests currently available that can identify Parkinson’s disease. Because it usually affects people over fifty, it is important to see a doctor if you begin experiencing mild tremors, shakiness, or any of the above-mentioned symptoms. Other diseases cause similar symptoms; your doctor can determine if what you are suffering from is, indeed, Parkinson’s disease.

Young-onset Parkinson’s disease, though rare, occurs in those younger than forty. The disease follows a smoother course. Those with young-onset Parkinson’s typically have fewer problems with balance and memory loss. They can, however, have more problems with movement because of some of the medications.

Prognosis

Parkinson’s disease is chronic and progressive, meaning it gets worse with time. Different people are affected by different symptoms; there is no way to predict the degree to which a person will be affected. Some people may become incapable of functioning normally, but others may experience only minor symptoms.

Treatment

Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. There are, however, medications that can dramatically reduce the symptoms. The most common is levodopa combined with carbidopa. Nerve cells use this to replace the diminishing supply of dopamine in the brain. If used in young-onset Parkinson’s, however, this can cause movement problems. Not all patients respond equally to the drug, but it helps at least 75 percent of cases. It does not affect all of the symptoms, either, helping most with bradykinesia and rigidity. It may only slightly affect tremors, and may not reduce other symptoms at all. Other drugs are available that mimic the role of dopamine in the brain; talk to your doctor about treatment options. Proper treatment and planning for the future are essential to living with Parkinson’s disease.

Progress

Research is being done on all aspects of the disease, studying new drugs to reverse, delay, or prevent the disease, and trying to pinpoint the cause of the disease with the hope of prevention.

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