What is Parkinson’s Disease, Causes, Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that results in to shaking (tremor), stiffness (rigid), and problems with walking, balance, and coordination. Parkinson’s symptoms as mentioned above commonly starts slowly and then progresses to become worse with time. As the disease gets to the advanced stage, people may have problems walking and talking.

Table of Content

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition I.e it is a disease of a part of the brain which mainly causes slowing of movement, stiffness of muscles and involuntary movement of the fingers.
That is, a person with the disease would be moving slowly, doing things very slowly, and you might notice that their fingers are always shaking/trembling. There are a number of reasons why this can happen.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

How do you get Parkinson’s Disease: The cause is still not fully understood. However, research studies have shown that not one single agent is responsible for the development of the disease.
There may be multiple interacting risk factors including genetic susceptibility or predisposition. Some risk factors that have been associated with those who have the disease are as follows;

parkinson's disease
Tremors, especially of the hands are common seen in Parkinsons disease: Image credits
  1. Age: The chance to have Parkinson’s disease increases with age. It is commonly seen in those who are over 70 years of age.
  2. Gender: it has been noticed to be more common in males than females. Males are 1.5x more likely to have PD than females.
  3. Environmental factors: There may be a small increased risk of Parkinson’s disease among those living in rural areas, those drinking well water and those exposed to pesticides, like the one used in killing rats. Also, smoking is also a factor. (Yes! Studies consistently show that non-smokers have a higher risk of developing PD than smokers). However, this is not a reason for you to start smoking. There are many other negative effect of smoking.
  4. Genetic factors: Idiopathic PD is not usually inherited but for those with early onset I.e <40years old, it is more likely to be inherited.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

How to know a person with Parkinson’s disease.
It is important to understand that the main symptoms of PD are usually preceded by other symptoms years before their start showing. That is, they are other symptoms which show up months, or even years before the person would start manifesting the main symptoms that is shown in Parkinson’s disease. We refer to these preceding symptoms as prodromal symptoms and examples of them are:

  1. Anosmia – loss of smell sensation. You would not be able to perceive things like you use to.
  2. Depression/Anxiety
  3. Body aches and pains
  4. Urinary urgency: when you get pressed, you cannot hold the urine for long. You have to go and urinate immediately.
  5. Constipation: you do not go to defecate for days.
  6. Restless legs syndrome: in this condition, a person has a nearly irresistible urge to move the legs, typically in the evenings.

The above symptoms listed may appear up to seven years before the main symptoms of the disease. This ones are what we call motor symptoms. These symptoms include:

  1. Akinesia/Bradykinesia (Slow Movements): this is the slowing of movement and is the cardinal feature of Parkinsonism. There is difficulty initiating movement and rapid dexterous movements like writing is affected. The writing appears smaller and smaller and the person may be unable to button and unbutton their shirt buttons.
    The amount of time they blink decreases and the person appears to have a ‘stare’ look (as if their eyes is not blinking). Also, facial immobility gives a mask like semblance of depression.
  2. Tremor (shaking): this is the involuntary movement of any part of the body but almost always starts in the fingers and hand in PD. The tremor is present when you keep your hands steady, and reduces or stops completely when you are moving the hands.
  3. Rigidity: stiffness when another person tries to move the limb.
  4. Postural and gait changes: The person appears to be stooping and walks like a ‘robot’ with hands always by the side (and not swinging forward or backward as normal) while shuffling (dragging) the feet on the ground. It may get worse and the person falls when walking.
  5. Speech and swallowing: the persons speech (talking) becomes quiet, indistinct and flat and may be drooling (saliva from the mouth). It may also be difficult to swallow food.
  6. Cognitive and psychiatric changes: thinking and social symptoms that interferes with daily functioning like mental decline, confusion in the evening hours, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language, making things up, mental confusion, or inability to recognize common things. Depression is also common.

Prevention of Parkinson’s Disease

Due to the poorly understood causative factors of PD, there is no single effective method of preventing PD.

Management of Parkinson’s Disease

There is no cure for the disease. The aim of management is to improve patient quality of life and prevent complications of PD. Measures to do this includes;

  1. Education: the person should be informed about the condition and side effects of drugs he will be placed on.
  2. Lifestyle modification: Physical activity should be encouraged. The person should also eat a healthy balanced diet.
  3. Medications: there are a number of drugs used for this condition like; Levodopa (most effective form of treatment), pramipexole, selegiline, Apomorphine, etc.
    You should see your doctor for the best medication with less side effects that would suit you.
  4. Physical and occupational therapy

Questions people ask about Parkinson’s Disease

  • How long can a person live with Parkinson’s disease? People with this condition can expect to live almost as long as other people without the disease.
  • Can Parkinson disease be cured? No, Parkinson’s disease can not be cured.
  • How do Parkinson’s patients die? The two main causes of death in people with PD are pneumonia and falls. due to the rigidity associated with the disease, they are prone to higher risk of falling.

Authors

  • Ugwunebo Odera attended the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in Ituku Ozalla, Enugu State Nigeria.

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