What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the control of movement and cognitive function. It is a neurodegenerative disease that causes damage to the brain over time and can severely impair the quality of life. The condition typically starts with tremors or shaking, which is why it was first called “the shaking palsy” in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson. 

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease? 

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the progressive loss of a particular type of neurons in the brain. Neurons are specialized cells that transmit messages throughout your body. It occurs when some neurons die or become impaired and can no longer send messages to your body. This causes specific symptoms and complications, such as tremors, rigidity, balance problems, etc. 

Doctors aren’t sure what exactly causes Parkinson’s disease to develop. Most cases seem to be caused by genetic and environmental factors that trigger the disease in people who are genetically predisposed to Parkinson’s. However, scientists have identified several factors that may play a role in its development: 

Genetics: Certain genes appear to be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, only a small number of cases seem to be directly inherited from a person’s parents. 

Environment: Exposure to certain environmental toxins may increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. These include pesticides, heavy metals, and herbicides used on crops. 

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease? 

Parkinson’s disease is usually diagnosed around 60, but some people are diagnosed in their 40s and 50s. However, it’s possible to have the condition and not know it, as symptoms can be mild at first. The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremors or shaking, rigidity or stiffness, bradykinesia or slowness of movement, postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. 

How is Parkinson’s Diagnosed? 

Parkinson’s is diagnosed by factors, including your medical history, a neurological exam, and blood tests. At the moment, there is no specific test for Parkinson’s disease (PD). The diagnosis is made by identifying a set of symptoms and ruling out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms. A neurological examination will test your movement and other neurologic functions.  

The Neurologist may ask you to perform simple tasks, such as walking across the room or touching your finger to your nose. This will help determine if you have slowed movement, muscle rigidity, postural instability, or any other symptoms of PD. The doctor may also perform the following tests: 

Electromyography (EMG) uses small needles or electrodes placed on your skin to measure the electrical activity of individual muscles. This test can determine if you have tremors or other muscle issues caused by Parkinson’s. 

Brain scans such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), and Single-Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) show the brain at work and can help doctors rule out other diseases that cause similar symptoms. 

Cognitive tests measure thinking, learning, judgment, and problem-solving skills. 

How can Parkinson’s be Treated? 

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are treatment options that can help alleviate symptoms and slow the condition’s progression. Treatment is usually performed individually and can include prescription medications, surgery, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lifestyle changes. Physical therapy may consist of massage and exercise techniques for patients with Parkinson’s. Occupational therapy may help patients learn to cope with the limitations brought on by the disease. Lifestyle changes may include stress management and sleep hygiene.