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Parkinson's disease cannot be reversed with diet, but dietary changes, exercise, and medications can help ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Eating a balanced diet can improve your overall health and boost your ability to cope with the condition.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson's disease is a chronic, progressive, and degenerative nervous system disorder that leads to muscle tightness, tremors, and rigidity. People with Parkinson’s disease may develop cognitive problems, including memory loss and dementia.
The risk of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, and the disease is more common in people over age 50 (the average age being 60), affecting everyone across all the ethnic groups.
Early-onset Parkinson’s disease occurs when it affects someone under age 50. This is more likely in people with a family history of the disease.
It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s.
What causes Parkinson’s disease?
It is unknown what exactly causes Parkinson’s disease. Experts speculate that genetic predisposition may be the causative factor in some cases.
Parkinson’s disease could be a result of the following factors:
- Changes in the substantia nigra, a movement controlling region of the brain.
- Gradual breakdown, impairment, or death (approximately 80%) of certain nerve cells (neurons) that produce a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine, making it hard for the brain to coordinate muscle movements.
- Absence of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) that impairs communication between the nerve cells in the brain and the rest of the body. Dopamine plays a key role in many body functions, including memory, movement, motivation, mood, and attention. Low dopamine contributes to mood and cognitive problems.
- Early-onset Parkinson’s disease is often inherited and is the result of certain gene defects.
Although not clear, some researchers have speculated that Parkinson’s disease could be a result of other factors, including:
- Presence of Lewy bodies: Substances within the brain cells that seem to be microscopic markers of Parkinson's disease.
- Presence of Alpha-synuclein: Protein found within Lewy bodies in a clumped form that cells cannot break down.
What are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?
Initially, symptoms are mild and progress gradually to get worse over time.
Early signs of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Tremors or shaking movements, affecting the face and jaw, legs, arms, and hands (often called pin-rolling tremors)
- Muscular stiffness or rigidity limiting the range of motion
- Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
- Stiff walking
- Difficulty maintaining balance
- Problems with coordination
- Impaired posture
- Stiff feeling in the arms, legs, and torso area
- Handwriting changes
- Changes in speech
- Loss of involuntary movements, such as blinking, smiling, or swinging arms while walking
Signs of advanced Parkinson’s disease include:
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
Because there is no single diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease, the condition is difficult to diagnose and can be mistaken for other health conditions.
Your doctor will usually confirm a diagnosis through medical history, a detailed physical and neurological examination, and imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scan of the brain.
What are the stages of Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease impacts people in different ways, and not all affected people will develop symptoms in the same order or at the same intensity.
The typical patterns of progression in Parkinson’s disease are as follows:
- Stage I
- Initial stage with mild symptoms that most often do not interfere with the daily routine activities.
- Tremors or other movement symptoms occur on one side of the body with mild changes in posture, walking, and facial expressions.
- Stage II
- Symptoms gradually worsen with tremors, rigidity, and other movement symptoms affecting both sides of the body.
- Poor posture and walking difficulty become apparent.
- Daily tasks are more difficult but still manageable alone.
- Stage III
- Hallmarks include loss of balance, slow movements, and more frequent falls.
- Symptoms significantly impair activities such as dressing and eating, but the person may still be independent.
- Stage IV
- Symptoms are severe and limit daily routine activities.
- The person may be unable to live alone and may require a walker.
- Stage V
- Most advanced and debilitating stage of Parkinson’s disease, with hallucinations and delusions.
- The person is unable to stand or walk due to stiffness in the legs and may be bed-ridden.
- A caretaker is needed for daily activities.
What are the rating scales for Parkinson’s disease?
The progression of Parkinson’s disease is rated by referring to scales focusing on motor symptoms:
- The Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS)
- Comprehensive tool used to account for nonmotor symptoms, such as mental functioning, mood, and social interaction
- Accounts for cognitive difficulties, ability to carry out daily activities, and treatment complications
- Hoehn and Yahr stages
- Simple rating scale that rates symptoms on a scale of I to V, wherein I and II represent early-stage, II and III mid-stage, and IV and V advanced-stage Parkinson's.
How is Parkinson’s disease treated?
Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease cannot be permanently cured. However, therapies and medications can help offset the loss of the chemical dopamine in the brain and control symptoms quite successfully.
Many people with Parkinson’s disease benefit from deep brain stimulation, which is a procedure involving the implantation of electrodes into a specific part of the brain. These electrodes send electrical impulses that help control tremors and twitching movements.
Some people may require surgery that involves destroying small areas of brain tissue responsible for the symptoms.
What are complications of Parkinson’s disease?
At advanced stages, Parkinson’s disease can cause problems with cognitive function. Over time, as the disease gets worse, many people develop dementia due to nerve cell degeneration, leading to chemical changes in the brain. This ultimately results in problems such as:
- Profound memory loss (forgetfulness)
- Difficulty paying attention
- Reduced problem-solving skills
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Difficulty speaking and communicating with others
- Inability to take care of themselves
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Johns Hopkins Medicine. Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/parkinsons-disease/parkinsons-disease-and-dementia
Parkinson’s Foundation. Stages of Parkinson's. https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/What-is-Parkinsons/Stages-of-Parkinsons
Mayo Clinic. Parkinson’s disease. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055
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Parkinson's SlideshowDiscover the symptoms, causes, stages, and treatment options for Parkinson's disease. Learn more about the stages of Parkinson's disease such as tremors and loss of muscle control.
Parkinson's QuizParkinson's disease is common among neurodegenerative disorders. Do you know how it works? The causes? The symptoms? Take the Parkinson’s Disease Quiz to Test your knowledge of Parkinson's.
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What Is the Best Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease?Parkinson's disease is the deterioration of brain nerves that control movement. Learn what medical treatments can help ease your Parkinson's disease symptoms and speed up your recovery.