What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's Disease is a condition of the central nervous system that primarily affects movement through nerve cell damage. Most common symptoms of Parkinson's include tremor, stiffness, loss of balance, speech impairment etc. The symptoms start gradually, but worsens over time. Children and young adults rarely get affected, and the usual time of onset is late middle age or old age. There is no cure as of yet for Parkinson's, but quality of life can improve significantly with proper medication and management techniques. 

Symptoms

Early signs of Parkinson's can be very mild, and varies from person to person. So it is common to miss the onset of the disease and many sufferers don't even notice before the disease has spread considerably. Yet early diagnosis and treatment is always the best bet to ensure quality of life in later years, as it is a progressive condition. Early symptoms may include:

  • Tremor or shaking in a particular limb that gradually spreads to adjacent body parts over many days. 
  • Muscle stiffness that can often make movements painful or limit your ability to move at all.
  • A gradual slowing down of movement in general. Steps become shorter and more labored, and it can often be painful to sit or rise. 
  • Automatic movements like blinking and swinging of hands while walking can stop. 
  • Unusual postures and frequent loss of balance.
  • Difficulty in speaking and writing.

What causes Parkinson's Disease?

The disease is caused by a gradual breakdown and death of brain neurons that disrupts and ultimately cuts off the production of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates bodily movement, motivation, focus, and memory. What causes this breakdown is still unknown, but there are certain genetic and environmental factors that may trigger an onset.

  • Genes: Researchers have identified certain specific genetic mutations that can cause this particular type of nerve damage, although these are present only in families with a long history of Parkinson's Disease. Genetic variations that can lead to Parkinson's have also been identified in recent years, but they are not specifically connected to Parkinson's and the cases are anyway rare.
  • Toxins: Sustained exposure to certain types of toxins present in pesticides and herbicides have been noted to sometimes precede a Parkinson's onset. However, these too are rare cases and no direct causal link has yet been established.

Treatment

Parkinson's Disease cannot be cured, but with proper diagnosis and medication, the symptoms can be alleviated, often significantly. 

Diagnosis

No specific test for identifying Parkinson's are available yet. Diagnosis is made based on the patient's signs and symptoms, and medical history. Contact a neurological facility if you notice early signs like tremor, shaking, speech slurring, and stiffness in certain limbs or a side of the body.

Medication

Medicines are usually given for improvement in tremor and movement difficulties. This is done by addressing and compensating the Dopamine deficiency in the brain. 

In certain cases, your neurologist may advise surgery to repair portions of your brain where cell damage has been most severe. 

Therapy

Physiotherapy, particularly related to stretching and walking, goes a long way in helping Parkinson's sufferers lead a normal life. In certain cases, the assistance of a  speech therapist is also required.