Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder in which neurons in the substantia nigra (a part of the brain) die or become impaired. These neurons produce dopamine which controls muscle movement, so when these cells die, Parkinson’s symptoms emerge. The main symptoms include tremors, rigidity, slow movement, loss of balance, and an increase in severity as age increases. It affects over one million people in the U.S., more people than Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease combined (PSCK).
Diagnosis is very sketchy with this disease because there is no X-ray that can prove it is Parkinson’s, but blood tests and MRIs can be administered to rule out other possible causes. Levodopa can be administered (a chemical that temporarily restores dopamine) and if the patients response is positive, that can be a good indicator of Parkinson’s, but if the doctor does not think the patient needs medication at the time, it is irrelevant. The best option would be to seek a neurologist who specializes in Parkinson’s Disease.
The average age of onset is 62, but 4-10 percent of cases do occur before the age of 40 (PSCK). However, what most people don’t know is that there are many diseases that have similar symptoms and quite often Parkinson’s Disease is not the culprit. Only one percent of the cases are even familial. Most of these Parkinson-like symptoms, termed Parkinsonism, are caused by environmental toxins such as carbon monoxide and pesticides, which most with Parkinson’s aren’t even exposed to. Today’s research suggests that it’s a combination of genetic factors and environmental exposures that causes Parkinson’s Disease.
Furthermore, genetics play only a small role in a few cases. People with first degree family members who suffer from Parkinson’s only have a two to threefold chance of developing the disease compared to the general population (PDF). Studies also show that rural living, such as drinking well water and exposure to herbicides, may be linked to the disease, but no single environmental factor, on its own, has been found to cause this disease.
There has been no treatment to reverse or prevent the affects of Parkinson’s, only medications to help lighten the symptoms. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, “The goal of treatment is not to abolish symptoms, but rather to help the patient manage their symptoms, function independently, and make the appropriate adjustments to a chronic illness” (NPF). A few common medications are Amantadine, Anticholinergic, and Selegiline. The two former help reduce tremors and can be taken along with Levodopa while the latter inhibits the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, thus prolonging dopamine action in the brain. Surgery is a possibility, but it is usually a lost resort after all medications have failed to ease the patients suffering and is quite risky.
Because this disease has no promising treatments, it requires a constant change in lifestyle as it progresses. Some activities may become harder or uncomfortable to perform and hobbies may need to be adjusted: ” mountain hiking may be changed to long walks along the beach…playing golf may mean 9 holes rather than 18″ (NPF). There also may be psychological effects to having Parkinson’s. Many get angry, depressed, and often socially withdraw from family and friends and support groups or counseling may need to be considered. It’s understandable for the patient to experience these anxieties, but the family must also cope and figure out ways to deal with this progressive disease.
A recently proposed research idea for stopping, and possibly reversing, the effects of Parkinson’s involves a five phase plan that “could lead to the discovery of a ‘neuroprotective’ compound that actually stops the progression of Parkinson’s” (PICC). If this were possible, a drug could be found that would stop the overproduction of a-synuclein; therefore, protecting dopamine producing cells from being degenerated by a-synulein. Further research such as this still continues to find a way to stop/reverse the affects of Parkinson’s Disease
The Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center (PICC). (2008) Article retrieved March 25, 2009 from http://www.parkinsonsinstitute.org.
About Parkinson’s Disease. (2007). National Parkinson Foundation (NPF). Articleretrieved March 25, 2009 from http://www.parkinson.org.
Statistics on Parkinson’s Disease. (2009). Parkinson Support Center of Kentuckiana(PSCK). Article retrieved March 25, 2009 from http://www.pscky.org.
What Causes Parkinson’s?(2009). Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF). Articleretrieved March 25, 2009 from http://www.pdf.org.