Parkinson’s Disease: What You Need to Know

By Causenta Wellness

Parkinson’s disease, named for the English doctor James Parkinson, who first detailed the disease in An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817, is a nervous system disorder. Parkinson’s disease progresses over time and is characterized by tremors, muscle stiffness and slowing of movement in the extremities and other parts of the body, including the face. Speech can also be affected, causing it to become slurred or softer in volume. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatments are available that can improve quality of life.

What are the common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

As with many nervous system and neurological disorders, Parkinson’s disease symptoms vary from patient to patient and may be so slight in the early stages of the disease’s development that they go unnoticed. This is yet another reason why Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder & CEO of Causenta, urges patients to be aware of their health and the changes they notice. “If you have regular annual check-ups with your doctor and track your health, you are more likely to discover an illness or disease earlier, which can drastically impact your long-term prognosis,” says Incledon.

Many Parkinson’s disease symptoms are caused by a loss of neurons — brain cells — that produce a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. Decreased dopamine levels lead to abnormal brain activity, which presents as Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Most people experience Parkinson’s disease symptoms more intensely on one side of the body, which continues as the disease progresses. Things to be aware of as potential Parkinson’s disease symptoms are:x

  • Bradykinesia or slowed movement — The term bradykinesia was first used by Dr. Parkinson and is a hallmark symptom of Parkinson’s disease. This slowing of everyday movements usually develops as the disease progresses; it makes simple tasks challenging and time-consuming. Examples of bradykinesia are your steps becoming shorter, having problems getting out of a chair, or dragging your feet when you walk.
  • Changes in speech — Parkinson’s disease can cause your speech to quicken or become softer than usual. You may also notice slurring in speech or hesitation before speaking. Another speech-related Parkinson’s disease symptom is your speech becoming monotone, losing its regular inflections and emotions. 
  • Impaired posture or balance — Unexplained balance problems or stooped posture can be signs of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Inability to perform automatic movements — You may experience difficulty performing unconscious movements such as blinking, smiling, or swinging your arms when you walk. 
  • Muscle rigidity — Stiffness in the muscles can cause pain or limited range of motion. Parkinson’s disease can cause rigid muscles anywhere in the body. 
  • Tremors — Another cardinal Parkinson’s disease symptom is tremors, or shaking, which typically begin in the limbs, such as the hand or fingers. Tremors can occur when your limb is resting or during movement. Some people involuntarily rub their thumb and forefinger back-and-forth this type of tremor is known as pill-rolling. 
  • Writing changes. Because of the effects of other Parkinson’s disease symptoms, writing can become difficult and your writing may become smaller.

There are also several complications associated with Parkinson’s disease that are not directly related to the breakdown in brain function, but which cause adverse effects to quality of life for those with the disease. These additional Parkinson’s disease symptoms include:

  • Anxiety, depression, or mood shifts
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Challenges with thinking
  • Difficulty chewing, eating, and swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to smell
  • Insomnia or intermittent sleeping patterns
  • Incontinence or constipation
  • Pain
  • Sexual dysfunction or lack of desire

Are there risk factors of Parkinson’s disease I should know about?

Based on research, it is known that in people with Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells in the brain gradually break down or die, leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. While the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown, there are risk factors that contribute to disease development. They include:

  • Age — People usually develop Parkinson’s disease around age 60 or older. Young people are rarely diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, however, actor Michael J. Fox has been battling the disease since 1991. He was only 29 years old when he was diagnosed. Fox is a staunch advocate for the disease and gives others with Parkinson’s disease hope that they can continue to work and enjoy life despite their diagnosis. 
  • Brain changes — Researchers have discovered a commonality in people with Parkinson’s disease that is linked to changes in the brain. Specifically, these changes involve the presence of Lewy bodies, which are clumps of substances in brain cells that hold microscopic markers of Parkinson’s disease. Lewy bodies house an abundance of a natural protein called alpha-synuclein. However, brain cells cannot break down the protein as it is stored within these Lewy bodies.  
  • Environmental toxins — While this risk is small, exposure to certain toxins, including pesticides and herbicides, or environmental factors can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Gender — Men are more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women. 
  • Genetics — We do know that in rare cases a specific genetic mutation can cause Parkinson’s disease. This often is apparent in families where many relatives have the disease. 

How is Parkinson’s disease treated?

Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured. Standard-of-care protocols for Parkinson’s disease include medications that control symptoms — often dramatically. These medications act to increase (or as a substitute for) dopamine.

Because dopamine cannot be directly administered to the brain, these medications are usually taken orally or through an injection and convert to dopamine inside the body. While they do a good job controlling tremors and helping with walking and movement, they do have side effects such as nausea, swelling of the ankles, light-headedness, hallucinations, and drowsiness. 

Incledon also notes that wellness practices such as a healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables and regular exercise, in this case, aerobic type, can be helpful in managing Parkinson’s disease symptoms. “Physical therapy can build strength and improve balance and working with a speech-language pathologist may also limit adverse effects on your speech as well,” he says. 

In certain cases, doctors may recommend surgery as a Parkinson’s disease treatment option. With this procedure, a surgeon will place electrodes in the brain. These are connected to a generator in your chest that sends electrical pulses to your brain, alleviating Parkinson’s disease symptoms. This is known as deep brain stimulation or DBS. It can be effective for patients who do not respond well to medications, but is invasive and does not prevent Parkinson’s disease from progressing.

Are there regenerative medicine treatments for Parkinson’s disease?

While research is ongoing in the area of regenerative medicine, there is evidence that certain treatments could be helpful in treating Parkinson’s disease and maybe even in repairing cells affected by the disease. This potential could help slow or eliminate disease progression.  

Exosomes and stem cells are two regenerative medicine materials that may show promise in treating Parkinson’s. Exosomes provide a means of intercellular communication with instructions for repairing damage to cells. Stem cells have the ability to regrow, repair, or replace damaged or diseased cells, organs, or tissues. Because of their unique qualities, they show great promise in treating neurological disorders and other hard-to-treat diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

If you are interested in learning more about Parkinson’s disease symptoms and how to manage them with regenerative medicine, contact our expert team for a consultation for an individualized plan.

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