Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system. The disease impacts people in different ways, but it all centers on affecting movement. In this article, we’ll talk about the signs and symptoms, possible interventions, and risk factors.
The symptoms are different for everyone, and the early signs can be so slight you don’t even notice them. In most cases, one side of the body will be affected first, and remain worse even after the other side shows symptoms as well.
Here are some of the early symptoms of the disease:
- Tremor, or shaking, often beginning in the hand or fingers
- Slowed movement, shorter steps, difficulty rising
- Muscle stiffness and pain
- Stooped posture
- Impaired balance
- Loss of unconscious movements, such as smiling, blinking, or swinging your arms when you walk
- Slurred, soft, or hesitant speech
- Changes to writing and other fine motor skills
Parkinson’s typically has five stages. It ranges from mild symptoms that don’t interfere much with day-to-day activities, to extremely debilitated
In the first two or three stages, the patient can more or less live independently, but their daily activities will become more and more taxing. By Stage Four, symptoms are much more severe, and walking becomes very difficult. In Stage Five, the the patient is usually bed-ridden and in need of care around the clock.
Parkinson’s also comes with many complications, most of which are treatable. These include:
- Cognitive problems and thinking difficulties
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Difficulty chewing and/or swallowing
- Sleep disorders
- Incontinence or difficulty urinating
Parkinson’s Risk Factors
The disease is caused by a breakdown or death of certain nerve cells in the brain. The exact reason for the damage to these neurons is unknown, but the older you are, the more likely it is to happen.
That’s why age is the main risk factor for Parkinson’s. It usually develops in middle to late life, with most cases occurring at age 60 or older.
Other risk factors are having a close family member with Parkinson’s, although the chance of developing it is still small unless many family members have the disease. Men are also more likely to develop the disease.
Some evidence exists that ongoing exposure to herbicides and pesticides may slightly increase the risk of Parkinson’s. If you’ve been a gardener for many years, you may want to talk to your doctor about any possible increased risk.
There are no specific diagnostic tests to diagnose the disease. When you come to your doctor with your symptoms, he will review your medical history, new symptoms, and do a neurological and physical exam.
He may conduct lab and imaging tests to rule out other conditions, a process that can a long time.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, there are medications to control symptoms, often with great effect. Some lifestyle changes, such as incorporating aerobic exercises into your daily routine. Physical therapy can also help.