Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that affects movement, mood, and other functions of the body. Parkinson's disease is a progressive condition, which means it gets worse over time. Treatments can reduce its symptoms and help improve the quality of life for those suffering from it, but there is no cure.
The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, but it involves the loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Nervous cells in the brain produce a chemical called dopamine, which controls muscle movements and emotions. If these nerve cells die or become damaged, dopamine levels in the brain decrease, causing movement and mood problems.
Some factors that may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease are:
Age: The risk of Parkinson’s disease increases with age. Most people develop symptoms after age 60, but some may have early-onset Parkinson’s before age 50.
Genetics: Some cases of Parkinson’s disease are inherited, meaning they are passed down from parents to children. Certain gene mutations have been linked to Parkinson’s disease, but they are rare and account for only a small percentage of cases.
Environment: Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, metals, or solvents, may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, the evidence for this is not conclusive and more research is needed to understand the role of environmental factors.
Parkinson's disease symptoms may vary from person to person and may change over time. Usually, Parkinson's disease symptoms begin on one side of the body and then affect both sides as the disease progresses. The main symptoms of Parkinson's disease are:
Tremor: This is a rhythmic shaking of a limb, such as a hand or a leg, that usually occurs when the limb is at rest. It may also affect the jaw, head, or voice. The tremor may decrease when performing tasks or moving the limb.
Rigidity: This is a stiffness or tightness of the muscles that may cause pain and limit the range of motion. It may also affect the facial expression and posture.
Bradykinesia: This is a slowness or difficulty in initiating and executing movements. It may affect walking, speaking, writing, swallowing, and other daily activities.
Postural instability: This is a loss of balance and coordination that may cause falls or difficulty in standing or turning.
Other symptoms that may occur in some people with Parkinson’s disease are:
Depression: This is a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
Anxiety: This is a feeling of nervousness, worry, or fear that may interfere with daily life.
Cognitive impairment: This is a decline in mental abilities, such as memory, attention, reasoning, or problem-solving.
Sleep problems: This may include difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, vivid dreams, nightmares, or restless legs syndrome.
Fatigue: This is a feeling of tiredness or lack of energy that may affect physical and mental performance.
Constipation: This is a difficulty in passing stools or having fewer than three bowel movements per week.
Bladder problems: This may include urgency, frequency, or difficulty in urinating.
Low blood pressure: This may cause dizziness or fainting when standing up from a sitting or lying position.
Sexual dysfunction: This may include reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty in achieving orgasm.
A Parkinson's disease diagnosis cannot be made with a specific test. It is determined by a combination of medical history, physical examination, and response to medication. In addition to asking about the symptoms, their onset and progression, family history, medications, and exposure to toxins, the doctor will also perform a neurological examination to test movement, balance, coordination, and reflexes.
The doctor may prescribe a medication called levodopa to see if it improves the symptoms. Levodopa is converted into dopamine in the brain and helps restore the normal function of the nerve cells. It is indicative of Parkinson’s disease if levodopa reduces tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia significantly within an hour of being taken.
A doctor may also order some tests to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms, including stroke, brain tumor, infection, or medication side effects. There are a variety of tests available, including blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests (such as MRI or CT scans), and electrical tests (such as EEG or EMG).
People living with Parkinson's disease can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life with treatments, but there is no cure. Each individual's treatment plan is tailored to their needs and preferences, which may include medication, surgery, and non-pharmacological treatments.
The main treatment for Parkinson’s disease is medication. It works by increasing dopamine levels in the brain or mimicking its effects. To prevent breakdown and side effects, levodopa is usually combined with carbidopa to treat Parkinson’s disease. Despite its potential to reduce tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia, levodopa may lose its effectiveness over time or cause fluctuations in response. The side effects of levodopa can include involuntary movements, called dyskinesia, or mood changes, such as hallucinations or psychosis.
Other medications that may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease are:
Dopamine agonists: These are drugs that act like dopamine and stimulate the nerve cells directly. They may be used alone or in combination with levodopa. They may have fewer fluctuations and dyskinesia than levodopa, but they may cause more side effects, such as nausea, drowsiness, swelling, impulse control disorders, or hallucinations.
MAO-B inhibitors: These are drugs that block an enzyme called monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) that breaks down dopamine in the brain. They may be used alone or in combination with levodopa. They may have fewer side effects than levodopa or dopamine agonists, but they may interact with certain foods or other medications.
COMT inhibitors: These are drugs that block an enzyme called catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) that breaks down levodopa in the body. They may be used in combination with levodopa and carbidopa to increase its availability and duration of action. They may cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, or liver problems.
Anticholinergics: These are drugs that block a chemical called acetylcholine that regulates muscle movements. They may be used to treat tremor, but they may cause side effects such as dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, or confusion.
Amantadine: This is a drug that was originally used to treat viral infections, but it also has some effects on dopamine. It may be used to treat dyskinesia or mild symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It may cause side effects such as nausea, insomnia, or skin rash.
The medication dosage and timing may need to be adjusted periodically to achieve the best results and minimize the side effects. The doctor will monitor the response and tolerance to the medication and make changes as needed.
It is common for people with Parkinson's disease to undergo surgery for severe or disabling symptoms that cannot be controlled by medication. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is the most common type of surgery. Electrodes are implanted into specific areas of the brain that control movement, and they are connected to a battery-operated device under the chest called a neurostimulator. Neurostimulators modulate nerve cell activity and reduce Parkinson's disease symptoms by sending electrical impulses to electrodes.
There are some risks associated with DBS, such as infection, bleeding, stroke, or hardware malfunction. DBS does not cure Parkinson's disease, but it can improve tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and dyskinesia. The device must be carefully selected, surgically planned, and programmed. The device may also cause problems with speech, balance, or mood. DBS may cause some side effects.
Other types of surgery for Parkinson’s disease are less commonly performed and involve destroying or transplanting certain parts of the brain that are involved in movement. These include:
Pallidotomy: This involves destroying a part of the brain called the globus pallidus that sends signals to the muscles. It can reduce the tremor, rigidity, and dyskinesia of Parkinson’s disease, but it may cause side effects such as speech problems, vision problems, or cognitive impairment.
Thalamotomy: This involves destroying a part of the brain called the thalamus that relays signals from the basal ganglia to the cortex. It can reduce the tremor of Parkinson’s disease, but it may cause side effects such as numbness, weakness, or speech problems.
Subthalamotomy: This involves destroying a part of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus that regulates the activity of the basal ganglia. It can reduce the tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and dyskinesia of Parkinson’s disease, but it may cause side effects such as speech problems, balance problems, or mood changes.
Fetal cell transplantation: This involves transplanting cells from aborted fetuses into the basal ganglia to replace the lost nerve cells and produce dopamine. It is an experimental procedure that has shown mixed results and has ethical and legal issues.
Non-pharmacological therapies are complementary treatments that can help improve the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of people with Parkinson’s disease. They may include:
Physical therapy: This involves exercises and stretches that can improve the strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination of the muscles and joints. It can also help prevent falls, reduce pain, and maintain mobility.
Occupational therapy: This involves activities and adaptations that can help with daily tasks, such as dressing, eating, bathing, or writing. It can also help with home and work modifications, assistive devices, and safety measures.
Speech therapy: This involves techniques and exercises that can improve the voice, speech, and swallowing of people with Parkinson’s disease. It can also help with communication devices, such as amplifiers or tablets.
Psychotherapy: This involves counseling and support that can help cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of Parkinson’s disease. It can also help with stress management, relaxation, coping skills, and social support.
Complementary and alternative therapies: These are therapies that are not part of conventional medicine, but may have some benefits for some people with Parkinson’s disease. They may include acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi, meditation, music therapy, art therapy, aromatherapy, or herbal remedies. However, they may also have some risks or interactions with medication, so they should be used with caution and under the guidance of a doctor.
There is no known way to prevent Parkinson’s disease, but some lifestyle factors may reduce the risk or delay its onset. These include:
Exercise: Regular physical activity can improve the health of the brain and the body. It can also help prevent or manage other conditions that may worsen Parkinson’s disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Diet: A balanced and nutritious diet can provide the essential nutrients for the brain and the body. It can also help prevent or manage other conditions that may worsen Parkinson’s disease, such as obesity, high cholesterol, or inflammation.
Avoidance of toxins: Avoiding or minimizing exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, metals, or solvents, may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, the evidence for this is not conclusive and more research is needed to understand the role of environmental factors.
Antioxidants: Antioxidants are substances that can protect the cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that are produced by normal metabolism or external factors. Antioxidants may slow down the degeneration of the nerve cells in Parkinson’s disease. They may be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or tea, or in supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin E, or coenzyme Q10. However, the evidence for this is not conclusive and more research is needed to determine the optimal dose and safety of antioxidants.
Despite the fact that Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition that has no cure, it can be treated with medications, surgery, and nonpharmacological therapies. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that affects movement, mood, and other body functions. In order to reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life of people living with it, the treatment plan is tailored to each individual's needs and preferences. Parkinson's disease may also be prevented or delayed by some lifestyle factors.