Parkinson’s disease is a chronic illness that affects more than 120,000 people in the UK. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative illness, meaning symptoms get worse over the course of time; this condition affects the way the brain coordinates movements including walking and speaking. Most people that develop Parkinson’s disease are aged over 50 but people of all ages can be affected by Parkinson’s disease; in people aged between 21 and 40 it is known as early-onset Parkinson’s and in people aged under 18, it is known as juvenile Parkinson’s (this is extremely rare).
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to the nerve cells in the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra; the nerve cells in this region of the brain are responsible for producing the substance that helps to send messages that coordinate body movements; the chemical is called dopamine.
Once the cells that produce dopamine have been damaged, the process of controlling and coordinating movements becomes much slower than usual; as time goes by more and more cells become damaged and movements become increasingly difficult to coordinate; the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually start to present once 80 percent of the cells have been damaged.
It is not known why damage is caused to the nerve cells in the first place; however, experts have identified genetics and environmental factors as possible causes. Research into the causes of Parkinson’s disease is ongoing.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually develop gradually; each person is different and individuals may experience different symptoms. The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Slow movement (also known as bradykinesia): Parkinson’s disease makes it more difficult for people to coordinate movements so patients may start to notice it becomes more difficult for them to initiate movements; an example of this is getting out of bed or standing up from a sitting position. Many people associate a slowness of movement with getting older and are consequently not diagnosed until they experience other symptoms.
- Shaking (also known as tremors): most people find that a tremor develops in one arm or hand initially; tremors are usually worse when the hand or arm hasn’t be used for a while and shaking usually calms down when the affected hand or arm is moved. Around 70 percent of people with Parkinson’s experience a tremor.
- Stiffness in the muscles: having rigid muscles can affect a number of daily activities as well as causing discomfort and pain; many people with Parkinson’s find it increasingly difficult to write, speak and swallow as their condition gets worse.
People with Parkinson’s disease may also experience mental health problems, such as depression.
Which treatments are available for Parkinson’s disease?
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease; however there are treatments that can help to ease the symptoms; common treatments include:
Medication- there are three main types of medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease; these are:
- Levodopa: this medication is absorbed into the body and then converted into dopamine.
- Dopamine agonists: this type of medication attaches to the dopamine receptors in the brain; it helps to replace the dopamine.
- Monoamine oxidase-B inhibitors: this medication works by blocking the actions of the chemical, monamine oxidase-B; this chemical destroys dopamine.
These medications can be very effective in easing symptoms but they may cause unpleasant side-effects, including:
- muscle problems (that may cause sudden movements)
- abdominal pain
- neck pain
surgery is usually used on patients that have had the condition for a number of years; it is not recommended for everyone. A surgical procedure known as chronic deep brain stimulation is sometimes used; it involves placing a small device known as a pulse generator in the chest wall and attaching a fine wire to the brain; this stimulates the affected area of the brain. This procedure has been proven to be effective in reducing the symptoms of Parkinson’s, but it is not a cure.
Therapies many patients with Parkinson’s disease benefit from therapies such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These therapies help to ease pain, help with communication, improve movement and flexibility and teach people how to adapt to life with Parkinson’s. Occupational therapists work alongside patients to work out solutions for living at home and doing everyday tasks, for example.
Alternative and complementary therapies:
around 40 percent of Parkinson’s suffers use forms of alternative and complementary therapies to ease their symptoms; examples of therapies include massage and acupuncture. Experts are divided on the subject of whether or not these therapies are effective.