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Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder which occurs due to the damage of the nerve cells in the brain for a prolonged period. As a result, the affected person will have difficulty to perform even simple tasks such as walking, talking or writing, affecting the quality of life. Though Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, medications prescribed by the doctor may reduce the symptoms associated with the condition.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop gradually, and often go unnoticed. Initially, only one side of the body is affected but later both the sides get affected. The symptoms of PD vary from person to person. Also, the symptoms change as the condition progresses.

Below symptoms are commonly noticed in patients with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Trembling or shaking of hands, fingers, legs, jaws and face even while at rest
  • Stiffness or loss of flexibility of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Slowed movement
  • Loss of certain involuntary movements such as blinking eyes, moving hands while walking, etc.
  • Poor balance and impaired posture (usually a stooped posture)
  • Problems with speech such as slurring or hesitation or a monotonous speech
  • Difficulty to write

Consult the doctor if the above mentioned symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are noticed. Only a doctor can diagnose the exact condition and rule out the other causes.

Causes

Parkinson’s disease results due to the degeneration of nerve cells in a part of the brain called substantia nigra. Consequently, a chemical substance known as dopamine is not produced in sufficient quantities. This chemical is vital for the movement of various body parts and a reduction in its levels produces the symptoms of PD. The exact cause for this degeneration of nerve cells is not clear yet.

Risk factors

Advancing age (especially after 60 years) increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. However PD can develop at any age. The other factors which make a person more prone to develop PD are:

  • A family history of the disorder
  • Exposure to the environmental chemicals
  • Male gender

 

Diagnosis

The doctor diagnoses Parkinson’s disease based on the medical history, the signs and symptoms exhibited by the patient and by performing a physical and neurological examination.

No laboratory tests can detect the presence of PD. However, to rule out other conditions, the doctor will order the below tests:

  • Certain blood tests
  • Imaging tests such as an ultrasound, MRI, SPECT or PET scan

Sometimes the doctor may give a specific Parkinson’s disease medicine. If there is an improvement in the symptoms, it confirms the presence of PD.

In some cases it takes long time to diagnose the condition. Therefore, the patient is asked to visit the doctor regularly to evaluate the condition and to check for any changes in the severity of the symptoms.

Treatment

Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured. Treatment aims at improving the symptoms and preventing the progression of the disease to maintain the quality of life of the person. Treatment options include:

  • Medications which increase the levels of dopamine. As dopamine cannot enter the brain, it is not given directly.
  • Supportive treatments such as occupational therapy and physiotherapy may be provided.

In severe cases a surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation (DBS) is recommended. In this method electrodes are surgically implanted in the brain. These electrodes send electrical impulses to stimulate the affected parts of the brain.

A speech-language pathologist may help the patient with problems of speech. Physical therapy may be provided to improve the balance and body posture.

Additionally, the doctor may suggest the patient to adopt certain lifestyle changes which may include:

  • Regularly performing aerobic exercises 
  • Eating a balanced diet especially foods that include omega-3 fatty acid
  • Avoiding activities which can increase the risk of falls

Complications

The below complications may develop if Parkinson’s disease is not treated properly:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Increased risk of falls and injuries
  • Problems with sleep
  • Difficulty to chew, swallow or to speak
  • Memory problems          

 

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