An Overview of Parkinson’s Symptoms and Treatment for the Disease
Dopamine is one of the 4 primary neurotransmitters used in the brain to regulate functions and processes within the human body. Movement depends on dopamine carrying signals between nerves in the brain. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease where the cells that produce dopamine die and the individuals then begins to have less control over their body movements, and having them become increasingly involuntary. Parkinson’s symptoms are slow to develop, and accordingly it can take some time for a physician to make a concrete Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.
Parkinson’s disease symptoms include body tremors (aka ‘the shakes’), slowness and stiffness across the body, impaired balance, and pronounced muscle rigidity. Other less-universal Parkinson’s symptoms are fatigue, softened speech production, difficulty handwriting, stooped posture, sleep disturbances, and constipation. Parkinson’s is a manageable disease, with the use of medication as well as physical and occupational therapy being the primary Parkinson’s treatment options.
As we’ve pointed out, what causes Parkinson’s is cell death in the body resulting in severely inhibited neurotransmitter (dopamine) production. The treatment options listed above may be preceded by surgery for some sufferers, and there are other Parkinson’s symptoms that may onset as the diseases progresses.
Let’s take a look at all of this here, as well as answering one of the more common questions related to these types of neurological disorder – is Parkinson’s disease hereditary?
More Detailed Look at Parkinson’s Symptoms
Of the Parkinson’s symptoms listed above, the one that is most commonly seen first is uncontrollable tremors in the hands. Often this symptom is what prompts the individual to see their physician and before an official Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is made. For others, however, they will have no identifiable symptoms once they develop Parkinson’s, or their symptoms are so mild that they are disregarded.
Another of the Parkinson’s disease symptoms that may be the original cause for concern is the individual’s face showing little or no expression even though he or she is experiencing stimuli that would normally register a facial expression. Individuals may also find that their arms do not swing when they walk or their speech becomes soft or slurred.
As regards to the tremors, many Parkinson’s sufferers will often begin with something known as ‘pill-rolling’, which is where the person rubs their thumb and forefinger together back and forth repeatedly and involuntarily. Bradykinesia is the clinical term for involuntarily slowed body movements, and it’s also one of the more telltale Parkinson’s symptoms. Common signs of this include steps being shorter when you walk, or feet dragging despite efforts to pick them up and walk normally.
Stooped posture or increasing difficulty maintaining your balance in positions that never gave you difficult previously can also be one of Parkinson’s symptoms.
More Detailed Look at Parkinson’s Disease Causes
Is Parkinson’s disease hereditary? The answer is that yes, it can be, but the development of Parkinson’s cannot always be attributed to it ‘running in your family’ as the expression goes. Some time ago researchers identified specific gene mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease. The good news is that this genetic inheritance of the condition is rare, but it is also true that certain more common gene variations can result in a slightly increased risk of developing Parkinson’s.
There is one type of change seen in the body that foretells the development of Parkinson’s disease and is a known precursor to Parkinson’s symptoms being seen. The first of these is the presence of Lewy bodies, which are clumps of specific substances within brain cells. More specifically, it is when these substance clumps contain a natural protein call alpha-synuclein. Cells can’t break this protein down, and researchers are currently studying this quite intensively with the belief that it may provide answers as to what causes Parkinson’s.
Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women.
Parkinson’s disease symptoms are particularly onerous and can render a person unable to participate in daily life as they need to. In addition the most common Parkinson’s symptoms listed above, the disease can also result in cognitive (thinking) problems, depression and emotional changes, chewing and swallowing eating problems, sleep dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and even loss of your sense of smell.
There’s no debating the disease is extremely debilitating, and that’s why so much research has gone into finding Parkinson’s treatments that mediate all these symptoms. Research into a cure continues as well.
Carbidopa-Levodopa(Lodosyn, Rytary, Sinemet, among other branded names) – these medications work to protect levodopa from early conversion to dopamine outside of the brain, and this allows for more dopamine processing within it and a reduction of Parkinson’s disease symptoms accordingly. Unfortunately, these medications tend to be less effective over time when used regularly, and as such they are not the best of the different Parkinson’s treatments.
Dopamine Agonists Mirapex, Requip, Neupro, Apokyn, among others) – these drugs mimic dopamine effects in the brain and mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms quite effectively as a result. They aren’t as immediately effective as Carbidopa-Levodopa drugs, but they also aren’t known to become less effective over time. Sometimes the two classes of drugs are used together. These dopamine agonists are known to have unpleasant side effects that are quite strong for some people.
MAO B Inhibitors (Eldepryl, Zelapar, Azilect, Xadago, among others) – these medications prevent the breakdown of dopamine in the brain by inhibiting an enzyme that’s key to the process – monoamine oxidase B (MAO B). It’s important to note that these types of medications should never be used if the individual is taking anti-depressant medication.
Catechol O-Methyltransferase COMT Inhibitors (Comtan, Tasmar among others) – these drugs prolong the effects of levodopa therapy by blocking the COMT enzyme that also works to break down dopamine. These meds also have the potential for strong side effects, and physicians are usually very precautious about prescribing them as a result.
Surgery as Parkinson’s Treatment
Deep Brain Stimulation is a surgical procedure used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Surgeon implant electrodes into the patient’s brain and they’re connected to an electrical pulse generator in their chest. The electrical impulses sent to the brain reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
This surgery is usually used for people with advanced Parkinson’s disease who have unstable responses to the medications listed above. It’s particularly good for relief of dyskinesia (involuntary movements) and reducing tremors and muscle rigidity.