What is Parkinson’s disease? Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, imbalance and lack of coordination. It is caused by the death of nerve cells in the substantia nigra (a part of mid-brain). These neurons produce a chemical called dopamine that helps in controlling movements in the body. Patients suffering from Parkinson’s also lack norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters producing never endings. Norepinephrine is the chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system. It controls heart rate and blood pressure of the human body. Thus, people with PD often experience fatigue, irregular blood pressure and problems in digesting food.
Whom does it affect?
Though the cause of the disease is still unknown, these are a few factors that might affect the risk of developing PD.
- Age: Generally, people above the age of 60 years develop Parkinson’s Disease. There are a few cases who develop it before 50 as well.
- Heredity: It has been observed that the disease is hereditary. If you have close relatives with Parkinson’s, your chance of developing it increases. Hereditary cases are only about 20%.
- Sex: Men are more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than women.
- Exposure to toxins: Continuous exposure to harmful chemicals like herbicides and pesticides may also increase the risk.
- Race: Whites are more likely to get Parkinson’s as compared to African Americans or Asians.
Symptoms – Initial and later
Some of the early symptoms of the Parkinson’s disease could be tremors in hand; lack of coordination and balance; gait; blank or less facial expressions; softer voice; cramped or small handwriting; loss of sense of smell; sleep problems; restlessness and constipation.
Once the disease reaches the fourth stage, people will experience visible bradykinesia and rigidity. Patients in the fourth stage often cannot live alone as they need assistance in standing, walking, moving and other daily activities. In the fifth and last stage, patients are bedridden. They will also experience severe posture issues, incontinence, insomnia and dementia.
There’s no test to diagnose PD specifically during life. It is a diagnosed based on health history, physical and neurological exam and by examining signs and symptoms. Since the symptoms for Parkinson’s and other diseases overlap, tests like CAT scan, MRI, DAT is used to rule out other conditions. Though diseases might have similar symptoms, the medication and treatment are different, it is important to make an exact diagnosis as soon as possible. Response to the medication is another way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
As discussed above there is currently no cure for PD. However, Dr Madhuri Behari, Professor & Head, Department of Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj medication says that surgical treatment and therapies often relieve some symptoms.
- Levodopa, the main therapy for Parkinson’s replaces nerve dopamine at the nerve endings just like insulin does in diabetic patients. Another medicine Carbidopa is usually taken along with L-dopa to reduce the side effects such as nausea, low blood pressure, vomiting and restlessness.
- DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) is also recommended to the patients who do not respond well to the medication. It is a surgical procedure that helps stop movement-related symptoms like tremor, slowness and rigidity.
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapies may be used to help with gait and voice disorders, tremors and rigidity, and decline in mental functions. A healthy diet and exercises are important modes to help to strengthen muscles and improve balance.
How can it be handled effectively?
- Diet can play an important role. As Parkinson’s disease is caused by the decrease in dopamine, the intake of some foods might help to increase it naturally and prevent progression of the disease.
- Patients should eat foods rich in antioxidants like nuts, berries and nightshade vegetables. These foods prevent oxidative stress and reduce damage to the brain.
- Fava beans can prove very beneficial, as they contain levodopa, which is the main ingredient for many medicines of PD. People should also increase the intake of omega 3, as it protects the brain from damage.
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