April 13, 2022 Health & Wellness
April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month
The Parkinson’s Foundation has named the month of April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that is also referred to as a movement disorder. The disease itself is not fatal, however, because it is progressive, symptoms will worsen over time for those with Parkinson’s. It is usually developed slowly across several years, but every person with Parkinson’s is going to have an individual experience with progression of the disease.
Parkinson’s Disease Causes
The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is mostly unknown, but researchers have determined that in those with Parkinson’s, dopamine levels decrease when certain nerve cells in the brain become impaired or die. The decrease in dopamine levels causes abnormal brain activity that results in symptoms like tremors and impaired movement, but scientists are still unsure what causes those dopamine-producing cells to die.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s that are not related to movement like fatigue or irregular blood pressure might be because Parkinson’s patients lose norepinephrine, a main component of the sympathetic nervous system. Scientists are still trying to determine normal vs. abnormal functions of cells that might impact genetic mutations leading to Parkinson’s Disease. Some specific genetic mutations can lead to cases of Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s Disease Risk Factors
The disease may seem to be hereditary, but in most cases, it occurs randomly instead of running in the family. Because of this, many scientists believe a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors can lead to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Exposure to toxins are one specific environmental factor researchers are considering. The main risk factors for Parkinson’s, however, is age. Most people first develop Parkinson’s around age 60, but as many as 10% of patients are considered early-onset, with a diagnosis before age 50. Typically, early-onset Parkinson’s is an inherited form of the disease. Additionally, men are about 50% more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.
Early Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s has many possible symptoms. Just because you have any of the following symptoms does not necessarily mean you have Parkinson’s, but you may want to consider discussing it with your doctor. Here are 10 early symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease:
- Tremors – Shaking in your fingers, hand, or chin while at rest. However, this can be normal after lots of exercise, stress, injury, or as a result of a medication.
- Micrographia (Small Handwriting) – Smaller letter sizes or words are more crowded together when you write. However, sometimes our handwriting changes as we age, especially if you have stiff hands or fingers or your vision has decreased.
- Loss of Smell – this can also be caused by a cold or flu, but you shouldn’t have trouble smelling things when you are healthy.
- Trouble Sleeping – everyone has restless nights from time to time, but if you consistently have sudden movements while sleeping, this may be a sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
- Trouble Moving or Walking – a stiff body or limbs that doesn’t go away with movement can be a symptom of Parkinson’s. However, plenty of pain or stiffness can be caused by other things like injuries or arthritis.
- Constipation – straining to move your bowels regularly can be related to Parkinson’s, but constipation can also be related to water intake, the amount of fiber in your diet, or medications you take.
- Speaking with a Soft or Low Voice – if other people say you have a soft voice or sound hoarse, but you aren’t sick with something like a chest cold, you may want to discuss your voice changes with your doctor.
- Facial Masking – this is where someone has a depressed or serious look on their face even when they’re in a good mood. This can be caused by some medications, but it can also be an early sign of Parkinson’s Disease.
- Dizziness or Fainting – if you consistently get dizzy or feel faint when going from sitting to standing, this could be a sign of low blood pressure, which can be related to Parkinson’s Disease (among other conditions).
- Stooping or Hunching Over – leaning, slouching, or not standing as straight as you normally do, could be an early sign of Parkinson’s. However, this could also be related to an injury, illness, or problem with your bones.
Prevention of Parkinson’s Disease
Unfortunately, since the exact cause of Parkinson’s is not yet known, it’s hard to say exactly how to prevent it. However, it does seem the regular aerobic exercise helps reduce risk. It’s also been seen that people who consume caffeine (coffee, green tea, soda) get Parkinson’s less often than those who don’t, but researchers are currently unsure what the relation is.
Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis and Treatment
There are not currently any blood or lab tests that can be done to diagnose Parkinson’s Disease, and because there are many disorders that can cause similar symptoms, it’s very important that a doctor figure out what your exact diagnosis is as soon as possible. This is done through a combination of looking at your medical history, a neurological exam, and seeing how you respond to Parkinson’s medications.
In addition to medications that affect your brain chemicals or help control symptoms not related to movement, Deep Brain Stimulation is another treatment option. There’s also physical therapy, including exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your balance, as well as occupational therapy and speech therapy. What treatments are covered for you will depend on your plan, so always be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting anything.
A Note About Parkinson’s and COVID-19
Parkinson’s Disease does not make you more likely to catch COVID-19, but it does make it harder to recover from a Coronavirus infection. Additionally, Parkinson’s patients who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are more likely to experience complications and/or death upon infection. If you plan to get vaccinated and/or receive a booster shot, make sure you protect yourself from COVID-19 scammers by following the tips on the Office of Inspector General’s website.