Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the nervous system. It is a neurodegenerative disorder, meaning that certain brain cells degenerate (die), causing neurological symptoms. It is a progressive disorder, meaning that it gets worse as time passes. Parkinson’s disease can manifest in many different ways, and no two patients are alike.
The disease is caused by a build-up of an abnormal protein in certain brain cells (neurons), which causes these cells to die. Researchers are working to understand why the abnormal protein builds up in the first place. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are due to the loss of neurons that make a chemical messenger called dopamine. There are several genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease, but about 75-80% of cases are sporadic, meaning the patient has no other family member with the disease.
Parkinson’s disease generally is a slowly progressive condition; however, with the treatments currently available patients can live very full, active lives for many years after diagnosis. Every patient is unique and needs to get neurological care that is specifically tailored to them to get the best response. Some physical therapy and speech therapy programs have been designed specifically for patients with Parkinson’s disease, such as the BIG and LOUD programs. There are also many things each patient can do to take charge of their Parkinson’s disease. Staying physically, mentally, and socially active is a key element, as is establishing a relationship with a neurologist experienced in treating Parkinson.
There is no simple test that can tell if someone has Parkinson’s disease. Instead, the diagnosis is a “clinical diagnosis,” meaning it is made based on elements of a patient’s history and examination. Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be a challenge as there are many possible symptoms and every patient is different. Neurologists who specialize in movement disorders see many patients with Parkinson’s disease and are typically very good at diagnosing Parkinson’s disease.
- Tremor – rhythmic shaking of a body part
- Slowness of movement (called bradykinesia)
- Stiffness of movement (called rigidity)
- Changes in walking and balance
- Decreased sense of smell
- Voice changes – becomes softer
- Sleep disturbances – acting out dreams
- Urinary dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction
- Trouble swallowing
- Therapy – physical, occupational, and speech
- Surgery – deep brain stimulation (DBS)