Parkinson’s Disease (PD) was first identified and named in 1817 by Dr. James Parkinson. Today, someone is diagnosed with the disease every nine minutes nationwide and an estimated 7 to 10 million people have PD worldwide. Texas ranks 8th in the number of cases in the U.S. PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease in which loss of cells around the brain leads to physical dysfunction and disability. Because of this, PD can drastically affect quality of life. The cause of the disease is still unknown, though thought to be brought on by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Symptoms of PD typically manifest slowly, over long periods of time and can be drastically different from one case to the next. Early symptoms include:
• Loss of smell
• Tremors, especially in extremities like toes and feet
• Stiffness in limbs and slower movement known as bradykinesia
• Erratic movements during deep R.E.M. sleep, often causing fitful sleep
• Change in posture, stooping
• Changes in handwriting, especially small, cramped writing, known as micrographia
• Masking or reduced facial expression known as hypomimia
The onset of symptoms is usually slow and symptoms worsen and broaden over time. Because PD affects parts of the brain responsible for coordination and muscle control, as the disease progresses, it manifests in slower, muted actions and often includes tremors that worsen with progression. There are five stages of PD and during the later stages, daily activities can be extremely challenging to impossible. People in the later stages of PD need daily help with routine tasks. Symptoms of advanced PD include:
• Extreme and uncontrollable tremors
• Inability to stand or walk due to freezing
• Loss of balance and falling
• Hallucinations and delusions
Diagnosing the Disease
Diagnosing Parkinson’s can be difficult because no test shows evidence of the disease. The majority of people affected by Parkinson’s are over the age of 60 and it can be challenging to diagnose symptoms as they often look like typical signs of aging. It’s essential to see a neurologist as soon as possible if there are indications of Parkinson’s because it can take several examinations for a diagnosis to be confirmed.
If caught in the early stages, medication can help slow the progression of the disorder and lessen the symptoms. Many cases of Parkinson’s are confirmed because of the patient’s positive response to the medications. Doctors find the use of a SPECT scan, called a DAT scan, useful and may also use other imaging tests to rule out other diseases such as a CT scan, an MRI, or a PET scan. Because diagnosing brain disorders can be difficult in general, if diagnosed by a general practitioner, it is vital to have the diagnosis confirmed by a neurologist and symptoms should be monitored regularly.
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease but it can be slowed and controlled with medication. PD affects dopamine levels in the brain and these medications work to increase or substitute dopamine in the brain. It is common for PD medications to become less effective over time. There is also a surgical procedure that is most often used with advanced stage PD patients called deep brain stimulation (DBS). This surgery involves risk factors but can reduce symptoms and stabilize patient response to medication.
Lifestyle can also impact the severity of the symptoms of PD. No foods have been proven to directly affect symptoms but eating a balanced diet ensures essential nutrients are received to keep the brain and body working at the highest capacity. Exercise can increase muscle strength, flexibility, and balance which can have a direct effect on the physical symptoms. Exercise and a balanced diet also improve well-being and reduce anxiety and depression. Working with a physical therapist is vital to ensure the exercise program is the most beneficial without being too strenuous.
Living with any chronic illness can be scary and complicated but an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan go a long way in helping maintain quality of life for people suffering from PD. If you suffer from or have symptoms of PD in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, contact Lone Star Neurology to get on a treatment plan today.