You should know the answers to these questions even if you don’t have Parkinson’s disease.
1. What is Parkinson’s disease?
Millions of people around the world are suffering from problems like shaky hands, slow movement, rigid body, and postural instability. These problems appear when the brain cannot perform its movement function and develops a disease known as Parkinson’s disease.
The disease is named after an English surgeon James Parkinson, who, for the first time, had clearly documented its medical description in 1817.
While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, most researchers believe that environment and genetics both play a role in its onset. It has been confirmed that 15% of the disease cases have a clear genetic origin.
Parkinson’s disease was first believed to be the disease of old-age people. However, due to an increase in the number of people diagnosed at a young age, it is now realized that Parkinson’s can also occur in people younger than 40 years of age.
Today, more than 10 million people worldwide are suffering from this disease, and this number is growing every year.
2. What’s really going on in the brain that develops Parkinson’s disease?
Your brain has full control over everything you do. Apart from other key functions, your brain controls the different movements of your body. The region responsible for this job is the Substantia nigra, a Latin word meaning black substances.
The Substantia nigra is abundant with specialized brain cells called dopaminergic neurons. These are named dopaminergic because they produce dopamine, a chemical messenger released by the brain for controlling body movements.
In Parkinson’s disease, these dopaminergic neurons die, and the brain cannot produce sufficient dopamine to govern body movements. As a result, the body becomes stiff and slow in movements. In addition, some body parts, like hands, develop uncontrolled shaking – generally known as tremor.
By the time these typical symptoms appear, the brain already lost 70% of its dopaminergic neurons.
3. How Parkinson’s disease progresses?
Parkinson’s is not like the flu or fever that disappear entirely in a few days after taking medicines. It’s a progressive disease that develops and becomes worse over time. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.
At first, some abnormal changes appear in the brain that begins to damage parts of the brain responsible for body movements. These changes are gradual, and the effect is limited to the brain only.
After 15-20 years, the damage reaches the level where it begins to affect the body’s normal movements. This is the early stage where typical symptoms of the disease start to develop. These early symptoms are mild and appear on one or both sides of the body. At this stage, the disease can easily be diagnosed clinically.
After 10 years of diagnosis, the movement function of the brain is drastically reduced, and the symptoms become more noticeable, usually accompanied by other problems like constipation, insomnia, low blood pressure, and abnormal eating behavior. This is called the mid-stage of the disease.
When the disease has passed 20 years, it reaches its advanced stage. At this point, the symptoms become very severe, and most often, the patient needs assistance for mobility.
4. How should I know that I have Parkinson’s disease?
In Parkinson’s disease, abnormal changes appear in the brain many years before the onset of its typical signs. But you wouldn’t recognize the disease at this stage.
The disease becomes apparent when your body shows symptoms like hand trembling, muscle stiffness, difficulty walking, and balance problems. You will realize that your facial expression is lost, and your eye’s blinking ability is decreased. Furthermore, you may also feel difficulty talking.
If you experience most of these signs, it indicates you have Parkinson’s disease.
5. I’m diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease; how can I deal with it?
Although Parkinson’s disease is not curable, its symptoms can be managed with medication. Taking the currently available medicines will treat your symptoms and increase your quality of life. It may also prolong life expectancy, as the research suggests.
But you should know that medication is not the only way to deal with this disease. There are other approaches that you need to consider. Adapting them in your life will help you live much better with this disease. These include regular exercise, a healthy diet plan, social interaction, massage therapy, counselling, and the use of assistive devices for self-care tasks.
Related article: How to deal with Parkinson’s disease?
Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your healthcare provider.