Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 1 million Americans to date. Yearly, there are about 60,000 new cases. It is a debilitating disease that unfortunately worsens as it progresses. It does not affect you mentally, but it does have a strong effect on your physical state. Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disease that falls under the category of movement disorders. It usually starts as a tremor. The tremor may only affect your finger, but as the disease progresses, the tremor spreads to all of the extremities. It gets to the point where you lose control of your body. You need help bathing, brushing your teeth, eating, and everything. Although it does not directly affect your mental state, it can lead to mental issues. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are many different treatments available which are shown to be very effective and improve the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s.
Nerves control the overall function of the body. We cannot breathe without nerves; our muscles wouldn’t contract, and our hearts wouldn’t beat without nerves. Every movement we make is a result of nerves. When our nerves are not communicating properly, we suffer from neurological diseases. Parkinson’s is one. We think that movement is strictly based on the ability of our muscles to contract and constrict, but that is only one part of it. Muscles need nerves to move. The nerves tell the muscles what to do, and they do it. In Parkinson’s disease, the nerves do not communicate properly with the muscles and shaking results.
Parkinson’s disease is not one that hits you all at once. It is a progressive disease that starts out hardly noticeable, but in the end stages, it is debilitating. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease varies from person to person. The progression of the disease also waivers. For some people symptoms are more serious in the beginning, and the disease progresses quickly. For other people, symptoms are very mild and unrecognizable. The disease may only progress very slowly. The most evident symptom, in the beginning, is a tremor. The tremor usually starts in the fingers or the hands. The tremor is more evident when that part of the body is in a resting state. A lot of times the tremor begins in the thumb. The thumb starts to rub the forefinger persistently. Other people may start noticing a lot of stiffness. Their movements become very slow. As the disease progresses, tremors continue to spread. Movements become even slower and sometimes when walking you will notice your arms do not swing, your steps become shorter, and your feet drag. Your normal tasks like tying your shoe or brushing your teeth can take much longer than usual. Your stiffness can be so bad you almost cannot move at all. Balance and posture worsen. Those things you do unconsciously also slow down. You may not blink or smile like you normally would. Eventually, the speech slurs and writing becomes nearly impossible.
Sometimes the disease leads to other complications. This disease takes a toll on you emotionally. Sometimes you want to know why and how it happened. It may cause a lot of depression and bring about both anxiety and fear of the future. Sometimes it leads to mental difficulties and eventually causes disease like dementia. Everyone does not experience dementia but in the later stages of the disease, it may happen. You begin to lose control of your bladder and bowel movements. Sometimes you have trouble urinating in general. Constipation is common because the digestive system is not working as effectively. Even the muscles used in swallowing are affected. Your diet may have to change to liquid because sometimes you lose the ability to swallow. Although you do not develop a sleep disorder, you will have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The blood pressure can fluctuate fairly quickly which may lead you to have dizziness and fainting. Fatigue becomes a part of you. You will feel tired often and struggle just to make it through the day. Pain is not a common factor, but it does happen to some people.
Parkinson’s disease is linked to heredity. Many people pass the disease on through genetics. If your parents have it, you are at a high risk of contracting the disease as well. It tends to affect men more than women. About 50% more men have the disease than women. Age is not always a factor, but it does play a role. Most often than not, you start experiencing symptoms in your 60’s. There are those who start having symptoms much earlier than 60. The thing about Parkinson’s is you can be totally healthy, and it hits you out of nowhere. There are environmental triggers for Parkinson’s. Being exposed to certain toxins like pesticides may trigger the disease.
If you notice these symptoms, you should see a neurologist. Some neurologists specialize in Parkinson’s disease. They will start by doing a physical examination. Most of the time they can diagnose it just in the office. Other times they will use diagnostic tests like MRI’s and PET scans of the brain. These tests also help to rule out other diseases. If you are in the salty stages, it is common that you follow up with the doctor. Sometimes the doctor has to see if it progresses before they run any tests. Just because you have a tremor, does not mean you have Parkinson’s it could be something else. If things progress, it typically confirms a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, there are several different treatments available for you. The most commonly used treatment is a medication called Carbidopa-Levodopa. The drug is used to treat the tremors. Most people respond well to the drug. The tremors may stop altogether. There are different doses of the medication, and once you find the right dose for you, you are good to go. Dopamine agonists is a drug that is not nearly as effective, but it does work for some people. Dopamine agonists have a longer lasting effect. It also gets into the system faster so if you need instant relief, this could be the medicine of choice. There is a host of other medications which are not as commonly used but they do release certain chemicals in the brain which help treat the symptoms. As the disease progresses, some people choose to go the surgical route. DBS or Deep Brain Stimulation has been shown to be very effective in treating Parkinson’s Disease. Surgery requires the implantation of electrodes into the brain. There is a generator that each electrode is connected to which is placed inside the chest. The doctor uses a DBS device to adjust the electrical pulses that are sent to the brain. DBS is not for everyone, but if you are not responding well to medications, it will be suggested for you. DBS improves tremors, limits rigidity in the muscles and also improves slow movements. Although DBS is not a cure, you can feel a lot of relief through this treatment.
Parkinson’s disease affects many Americans, and you may not be aware of it because it has not affected you personally. Having an understanding of these types of diseases makes you more empathetic and understanding towards those who deal with it on a daily basis. If you are someone suffering from Parkinson’s you should not give up hope. If you have tried all the medications, you should look into DBS. It is improving the lives of many people. Although, there is no cure currently, there is hope that a cure will be found.
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