Parkinson’s Disease

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder that affects a person’s nervous system. It is a progressive and permanent condition that is almost unnoticeable when it begins and becomes worse over the course of time. The neurons within the brain begin to break down and die, and the loss of these nerve cells is what causes many of the symptoms associated with the condition. In addition, the production of dopamine, a chemical messenger that controls brain activity, is diminished.

The exact cause of this cell breakdown is unknown, but it appears that some individuals are at a slightly higher risk than others. Certain genetic mutations are suspected to be possible triggers, as are environmental factors such as exposure to toxins, although the risk for both circumstances seems rather small. Some researches believe the development of Lewy bodies in the brain may hint at what causes Parkinson’s.

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Many patients first notice the condition when their hands will not stop shaking. As the disease progresses, a person may also experience:

  • Involuntary movements and fidgeting
  • Rigid muscles
  • Trouble walking or standing
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Problems sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Poor balance and posture
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Slow/shuffling movement
  • Impaired speech patterns
  • Changes in handwriting
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Depression
  • Weight loss

Parkinson’s Disease Causes

Although a large amount of research has been conducted into Parkinson’s disease, the causes remain largely unclear. A common factor among sufferers is the death of dopamine neurons in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is usually associated with pleasure and reward, but it also plays a role in motor function and some cognitive processes.

It is not known how this cell death occurs in sufferers of Parkinson’s disease, and often there is damage to other types of neurons, too. Researchers have identified several risk factors, but these vary from person to person.

Genetics play a role in Parkinson’s disease, with around a quarter of Parkinson’s patients having a family member who also has the disease. However, it is rare that genetic factors alone cause Parkinson’s Disease. In around 98% of cases, another risk factor is present.

Several such risk factors have been identified. People over the age of 60 are twice as likely to suffer from Parkinson’s disease as those under 60, and the disease is more common in males. Traumatic head injury is also a risk factor, as is exposure to certain toxic substances, particularly pesticides and metals.

How is Parkinson’s Disease Treated?

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. For now, medications can help patients manage the symptoms so they can go about their lives with as little difficulty as possible.

Doctors might prescribe anti-tremor medicines, dopamine promoters, antidepressants, or drugs that enhance cognition. Even surgical treatments are available to relieve tremors and more advanced symptoms. In 2016, surgery was also approved for patients with early symptoms, although certain conditions must be met first. Some forms of physical exercise can help, and patients will need visit a neurologist regularly for assessments of their condition.

Parkinson’s disease Prevention

There is no proven way to prevent Parkinson’s Disease, but researchers have identified possible ways of reducing the risk of developing it:

  • Drinking coffee and tea: with a particularly notable effect in males.
  • High levels of blood urate: associated with meat consumption.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: inflammation is thought to increase the risk of Parkinson’s.
  • Nicotine: smoking seems to lower the risk of Parkinson’s slightly, although the reason is not known.
  • Low cholesterol levels: as brought about by lifestyle changes or drugs.
  • High Vitamin D levels: which can be achieved through supplementation or exposure to sunlight.
  • Physical activity: being active seems to reduce the risk.
Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017