As a neurologist with a special interest in movement disorders, I’ve treated many patients with Parkinson’s disease over the years. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects how the body moves. It can cause tremors, shaking and trouble talking and walking. The disease can also affect a person’s behavior and mental health. Read more about recognizing the early warning signs of Parkinson’s Disease.
Nearly 1 million people in our country are living with Parkinson’s disease. The condition affects a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. In people with Parkinson’s, the cells in the basal ganglia become impaired or die. Parkinson’s is also associated with a loss of the nerve endings that make norepinephrine, which controls heart rate and blood pressure.
Early Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
Parkinson’s disease symptoms typically start gradually on one side of the body and worsen over time. The disease’s progression varies by person. Often, symptoms are mistaken for the normal aging process. Early warning signs include:
- Slight shaking or a tremor in the hand, finger, thumb or chin
- A “masked face” or constant emotionless or serious expression, even when a person doesn’t feel upset
- Stooping or slouching
- Unusual dreaming behaviors
- Small handwriting
- Loss of smell
- A soft, hoarse or low voice
- Trouble walking or moving
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness or fainting
Parkinson’s disease can also cause:
- Emotional changes
- Urinary problems
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Skin issues
- Parkinsonian gait, where a person leans forward, doesn’t move their arms much and takes quick, small steps when they walk
Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Certain tests and medication responses can help us determine if a person has Parkinson’s or not.
What Increases the Risk of Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease doesn’t seem to run in families and usually occurs randomly. However, researchers believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors can increase a person’s risk. Environmental factors include:
- Prior traumatic brain injury
- Exposure to certain toxins
- Where you live
Parkinson’s affects both women and men, though it’s more common in men. Most people with the disease start developing symptoms around age 60, though 5 to 10% of people with Parkinson’s experience an early onset before age 50.
Is There a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease?
Unfortunately, we don’t currently have a cure for Parkinson’s disease or a way to slow the disease’s progression. Treatments are used to help manage symptoms and include:
- Deep brain stimulation for people who don’t respond well to medication
- Physical, occupation and speech therapy
I also recommend that people follow a healthy diet and perform exercises to improve their strength and balance.
When to Seek Medical Care
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your primary care provider. They may refer you to a neurologist who can further evaluate your symptoms and medical history. Again, many of these symptoms are related to other causes, but it’s best to see a medical provider to get an accurate diagnosis. Find a provider near you.