Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disease that affects your ability to control movement. The disease normally begins to slowly worsen over a long period of time. If you have Parkinson’s disease, you may either shake, have muscle stiffness, and have trouble walking and maintaining your balance and coordination. As the disease worsens, you may also have trouble talking, sleeping, have mental and memory problems, experience behavioral changes, and have other symptoms.
Each patient with Parkinson’s disease experiences symptoms in their own unique way. Fortunately, not everyone experiences all symptoms of Parkinson’s disease; therefore, you may not experience symptoms in the same order as others. Some patients may have mild symptoms while others may have intense symptoms. How rapidly symptoms worsen also varies from individual to individual and is difficult to impossible to predict at the outset.
Causes & Symptoms
Parkinson’s disease happens when nerve cells, or neurons, in an area of the brain that controls movement become impaired and / or die. In some cases, these neurons produce an important brain chemical known as dopamine. When the neurons die or become impaired, they produce less dopamine, which then causes the movement problems of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists still do not understand what causes cells that produce dopamine to die.
In addition, most people with Parkinson’s disease also lose the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine (the main chemical messenger of the sympathetic nervous system) which controls many functions of the body, such as heart rate and blood pressure. The loss of norepinephrine might help explain some of the non-movement features of Parkinson’s disease, such as fatigue, irregular blood pressure, decreased movement of food through the digestive tract, and sudden drop in blood pressure when a person stands up from a sitting or lying-down position.
Many brain cells of patients with Parkinson’s disease appear to be hereditary, and a few can be traced to specific genetic mutations, in most cases, the disease occurs randomly and does not seem to run in families. Many researchers believe that Parkinson’s disease results from a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors such as exposure to toxins.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and the rate of decline vary widely from person to person. The most common symptoms linked to this disease include:
This is the slowing down of movement and is caused by your brain’s slowness in transmitting the necessary instructions to the appropriate parts of the body. This symptom is unpredictable and can be quickly disabling. One moment you may be moving easily, the next you may need help moving at all and finishing tasks such as getting dressed, bathing, or getting out of a chair. You may even drag your feet as you walk.
Shaking begins in your hands and arms. It can also happen in your jaw or foot. In its early stages of the disease, normally only one side of your body or one limb is affected. As the disease progresses, tremor may become more widespread; in fact, it worsens with stress. Tremor often disappears during sleep and when your arm or leg is being moved.
Rigidity is the inability of your muscles to relax normally. This rigidity is caused by uncontrolled tensing of your muscles and results in you not being able to move about freely. You may also experience aches or pains in the affected muscles and your range of motion may be limited.
Unsteady balance and coordination problems
You can develop a forward lean that makes you more likely to fall when bumped. You may also take short shuffling steps, have difficulty starting to walk and difficulty stopping, and not swing your arms naturally as you walk.
Muscle twisting and spasms
You may experience a painful cramp in your foot or curled and clenched toes.
Other symptoms include:
- Depression and anxiety.
- Chewing and swallowing problems.
- Urinary problems.
- Mental difficulties/memory problems.
- Skin problems such as dandruff.
- Loss of smell.
- Sleeping disturbances including disrupted sleep.
- Low blood pressure.
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
Parkinson’s disease is mainly known for its effects on movement. The most apparent symptoms are rigid limbs, slowed movements, and shaking. Less well known are the complications that occur because of various symptoms such as depression, sleep disorders, and dementia. Whether you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, or you have a loved one with the disease, here are some complications you must be aware of so you can watch out for any warning sign:
Difficulty chewing / swallowing
Difficulty swallowing with Parkinson’s disease is very poorly understood. It may involve problems in the brain, peripheral nerves, and muscles. It may also involve a lack of coordination of the muscles and reflexes involved in swallowing. As a result, food can get stuck in your throat. In the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, trouble swallowing can make you choke, or allow food and liquids to leak into your lungs and cause pneumonia. Some people with Parkinson’s disease produce too much or too little saliva. In serious cases, excess saliva can lead to drooling.
Although Parkinson’s disease is primarily a movement disorder, it can also disrupt parts of the brain that control thought and memory. Between 50-80% of patients with Parkinson’s disease develop dementia. People with this disease also develop abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies inside their brains. These are the same deposits found in people who have dementia with Lewy bodies.
Up to half of the people with Parkinson’s disease have clinical depression at some point in their lives. If you feel down or you have lost interest in life, it is strongly recommended to speak with your doctor. Antidepressants and therapy can help relieve your depression. It is normal to feel anxious or upset when you live with a chronic condition like Parkinson’s disease, however, depression is more than just a byproduct of living with the disease. It can be a direct result of the disease because of chemical changes in the brain.
Sleep disorders are common in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Some common nighttime issues that can disrupt your sleep include insomnia, nightmares, REM sleep behavior, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and confusion at night.
This is common in people with Parkinson’s disease, can make you feel tired during the day. Taking naps, exercising, and taking your medication as prescribed can all help address this Parkinson’s complication.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can sometimes be difficult to achieve since early symptoms can mimic other disorders and there are no specific blood or other lab tests to help diagnose the disease. Imaging tests, such as CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, may all be used to rule out other conditions that are causing similar symptoms.
So, to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, you will first be asked about your medical history and family history of neurologic disorders as well as your current symptoms, medications, and possible exposure to toxins. Your doctor will look for signs of tremor and muscle rigidity, visualize how you walk, check your posture and coordination, and look for slowness of movement.
Because Parkinson’s disease affects each individual differently, a physiotherapist will partner with you to help manage your specific situation; now and as your condition changes. Following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, your physiotherapist will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, including additional tests to examine your posture, strength, flexibility, walking, endurance, balance, coordination, and attention with movement.
Based on your test results, your physiotherapist will develop an individualized treatment plan to help you stay as active and as independent as possible. Your program will include exercises and techniques to combat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Depending on the nature and severity of your condition, your treatment program may focus on activities and education to help you:
- Improve your fitness level, strength, and flexibility.
- Develop more effective strategies to get in and out of bed, chairs, and cars.
- Turn over in bed more easily.
- Improve the smoothness and coordination of your walking.
- Improve your ability to perform hand movements.
- Decrease your risk of falling.
- Improve your ability to climb and descend stairs.
Medications are the main treatment method for patients living with Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan best suited for you based on the severity of your disease at the time of diagnosis, side effects of the drug class, and success or failure of symptom control of the medications you try.
Here are some treatment medications that can help fight and reduce mild symptoms from Parkinson’s disease:
- Levodopa – Levodopa is the main treatment for the slowness of movement, tremor, and stiffness symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Nerve cells use levodopa to make dopamine, which replenishes the low amount found in the brain of a patient with Parkinson’s disease.
- Dopamine agonists – These types of drugs mimic the effects of dopamine in your brain. They are not as effective as levodopa in controlling slow muscle movement and muscle rigidity. Your doctor may try these medications first and add levodopa if your symptoms are not well controlled depending on the severity of your symptoms and your age.
- Anticholinergics – These drugs help reduce tremor and muscle stiffness. Examples include benztropine and trihexyphenidyl. These are the oldest class of drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease.
- Bathroom aids – Bathroom aids can make this essential room safer and more accessible. Examples include a shower chair, grab bars, and a non-skid bath mat.
- Bedroom aids – In bed, blanket support (a frame that holds the weight of the blanket off your feet) makes it easier to move freely. An assist handle will also help you pull yourself upright.
- Walking aid equipment – Parkinson’s disease often leads to gait and impaired balance. A cane or a wheeled walker may improve your ability to get around.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Parkinson’s disease can make daily life very difficult, but simple home remedies that help treat Parkinson’s symptoms can make living with the condition a lot easier. Here are some homeopathic treatments you can try:
Lower your protein diet
Your diet can impact how well your medication helps to manage common Parkinson’s symptoms, including tremors and constipation. Diets heavy in protein, for instance, can limit your body’s absorption of levodopa. As a result, some doctors recommend that people with Parkinson’s disease limit their protein intake to 12% of their total daily calories.
Gait training to improve overall balance
Patients with Parkinson’s symptoms can enhance their treatment by doing what is called gait training at home. This involves practicing new ways to stand, walk, and turn. Firstly, people undergoing gait training should try to take large steps when walking straight ahead, focusing on proper heel-toe form. Then, keep the legs at least 10 inches apart while turning or walking in order to provide more support and reduce the risk of falls. Avoid shoes with rubber soles, as they can stick to the floor and increase the risk of falls.
Simple changes around the home can make it easier for you to function well while dealing with Parkinson’s disease. In addition, healthcare providers can help you come up with a detailed plan for living safely and independently at home.