Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder which is characterized by tremors, difficulty in moving, walking and difficulty in coordinating voluntary muscle control. The term Parkinsonism refers to a condition that involves different physical movement changes. Parkinsonism can be caused by other disorders and medications. Parkinsonism caused by diseases and conditions apart from Parkinson’s disease is called secondary Parkinsonism.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease occurs when the neurons responsible for making dopamine become damaged over time. Without dopamine, the nerve cells in the damaged part of the brain cannot send signals to the muscles; this results in loss of function in those muscles. Anyone can develop Parkinson’s disease; although, it is fairly uncommon for children to have it.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may start out mild and grow progressively worse as more brain neurons become damaged. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
Difficulty in starting and maintaining movement
Difficulty in swallowing
Lack of expression on the face
Loss of small hand movements
Muscle aches and pains
Problems in moving
Weakened balance while walking
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is based on a physical examination, neurological examination and assessment of the symptoms. Parkinson’s disease can be difficult to diagnose in older people; however, the symptoms become clearer as the illness develops. The doctor will assess the patient for muscle atrophy, tremors, ability to move arms and the ability to walk (if able).
There are no tests that will confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The doctor looks at the patient’s medical history. You will be asked if anyone in your family has or had Parkinson’s disease. The neurological exam will show how well the patient can perform some hand and walking tasks.
The patient is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease if:
He/she has at least 2 of the 3 major symptoms (rigid muscles, slow movements, tremors)
The symptoms are present on one side of the body
The tremors are worse when the patient is at rest
The symptoms improve when medicated with Levodopa
There is no treatment or cure for Parkinson’s disease. The treatments used to treat the disease are aimed at relieving the symptoms. The medications increase dopamine levels in the brain, which helps to alleviate some of the symptoms. The problem with medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease is that there are uncomfortable side effects. The side effects of Parkinson’s medications include nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, diarrhea and delirium.
Medications used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
Amantadine or anti-cholinergic medications for reducing early as well as mild tremors
Entacapone for preventing breakdown of levodopa
Levodopa and carbidopa
Making some lifestyle changes may prove helpful in managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Avoiding stress and taking regular rest periods may be helpful. Counseling can help the patient cope with this disorder. Exercising can help to maintain muscle movements; it is important to adjust the activity to coincide with changing energy levels.
The complications associated with Parkinson’s disease include pneumonia, side effects from medications, disability, injuries from falls, swallowing difficulties, and difficulty performing everyday activities. Pneumonia and other respiratory problems is a major concern because the person may aspirate (breathe in) saliva into the trachea. Choking may be a problem due to swallowing difficulties.
To prevent falls and encourage activity, the patient’s home should be equipped with railings in the common areas of the home for safety. Special eating utensils can help the person with Parkinson’s disease to maintain his/her independence for as long as possible. A healthy diet is necessary for overall general health.