Parkinson’s Disease

Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder that causes tremors and problems with movement and coordination. Parkinson’s occurs when nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine are destroyed, although it is not clear why this happens. Most people with Parkinson’s develop it in middle age, with symptoms that are at first mild and get worse over time. Certain medications and some alternative treatments can ease symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are shaking (tremors), stiffness in the limbs, slow movement, and loss of balance and coordination. Symptoms may only affect one side of the body and worsen over time, making walking and simple movements difficult. Tremors are usually seen when the body is resting and may get worse when tired or stressed. People with Parkinson’s may also drool, have problems swallowing, and speak in a monotone voice. Anxiety, confusion, depression, and dementia commonly occur with Parkinson’s. People with the disorder may also develop sleep problems and sexual dysfunction. Men are more likely than women to develop Parkinson’s.

Doctors usually diagnose Parkinson’s disease based on symptoms and medical history. As symptoms progress, the diagnosis may change. There is no lab test that can prove someone has Parkinson’s, but doctors may use CT scans and MRIs to rule out other possible conditions such as tumors and hydrocephalus (fluid buildup around the brain). After prescribing a medication, doctors will often monitor the patient’s symptoms for improvement to confirm the diagnosis. Another sign of Parkinson’s disease is the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain, which are clusters of substances found in brain cells. Although the exact relationship of Lewy bodies to Parkinson’s is unknown, research is ongoing.

Causes

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the destruction of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, a chemical that helps to send signals to the brain about muscle movement. It is not known what causes these nerve cells to die. Parkinson’s is most common in people over 50, although it can occur in younger people; genetic forms of the disease are more likely to affect young people. Some theories link environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins in pesticides, to increased risk of developing Parkinson’s, however, there is no conclusive evidence support this. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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