Parkinson’s disease, or PD, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can lead to both physical and mental decline. The condition is usually diagnosed in older adults, although it can present itself before the age of 50. PD affects one million Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
Symptoms that indicate the onset of PD include:
- Tremor in the hand, chin, or fingers
- Difficulty walking
- Poor posture
- Unsteady balance
- Muscle stiffness
As the disease progresses, new symptoms can occur:
- Slurred or soft speech
- Problems chewing or swallowing
- Memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety or depression
- Loss of smell
- Sexual issues
Some people are more likely to develop PD than others:
- If you’re male, you’re 1.5 times more likely to develop PD than a woman.
- As you get older, your chances of developing PD increase. However, the disease can occur in people under 50. This phenomenon is referred to as early-onset PD.
- If PD runs in your family, you have a higher risk of getting it, although most people who develop the condition have no genetic predisposition to it.
- Environmental factors can also play a role. Exposure to certain chemicals found in pesticides, herbicides, and organic pollutants has been linked to PD.
- If you’ve had a head injury, your risk of PD is elevated, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop the condition.
Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease
PD cannot be diagnosed with a blood test. Rather, neurologists diagnose the condition with an examination and by assessing the patient’s medical history.
The Parkinson’s Foundation has a set of criteria that must be followed in order to correctly diagnose PD. A patient must have had at least two of the following symptoms consistently for a period of time:
- Shaking or tremor
- Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
- Stiffness in arms, legs, or trunk
- Issues with balance
Doctors, though, are never quick to diagnose PD, due to the fact that other diseases can carry some of the same symptoms. Essential tremor, corticobasal syndrome, and normal pressure hydrocephalus are all diseases that mimic PD.
Treating Parkinson’s disease
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PD. For the time being, the best treatment is a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, therapies and, sometimes, surgeries. Treatment for PD is based on symptoms and varies by patient.
- Staying active is crucial. Research has shown that exercise and sports can improve the motor function, balance, and flexibility of patients with PD.
- Medications like levodopa, carbidopa, and dopamine antagonists can replenish dopamine in the brain, while anticholinergic medications can reduce tremors. MAOI-B inhibitors can also boost dopamine function.
- Focused ultrasound is a relatively new treatment option for PD. It can treat tremors caused by PD by targeting and destroying tremor-causing brain cells.
It can be concerning to witness the effects of PD first-hand. But you should know that new treatments and medications are in the pipeline, and the lives of people with PD today are constantly being made easier with the help of existing therapies. Finally, many organizations that work to advance research on PD believe that it’s only a matter of years before the disease is no longer a problem. Hopefully, with time, PD will be a thing of the past.
Steve Schadendorf, MD
Founding Medical Partner
Dr. Schadendorf is a board certified neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology at Bass Medical Group. Dr. Schadendorf is a Founding Medical Partner and Medical Director of the Neuromedicine Channel at Doctorpedia.