Parkinson’s disease is the result of gradual damage to the nerve centers in the brain that control movement, especially semi-automatic movements, such as arms movement while walking. The degeneration of these nerve centers disturbs the delicate balance of two chemical compounds (i.e. neurotransmitter) dopamine and acetylcholine, which play an important role in managing the transmission of nerve impulses in that part of the nervous system. Management is disturbed, and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occur.
We do not know what generally causes more frequent forms of this disease. A very rare form of encephalitis can cause a special type of Parkinson’s disease. In rare cases, nerve degeneration is the result of carbon monoxide poisoning or high concentrations of some metals in body tissues. Large doses of some drugs that are administered in the treatment of certain conditions (such as schizophrenia) sometimes cause Parkinson’s disease, but the symptoms disappear when the drug dose is reduced.
One of the characteristic symptoma – a tremor, or shaking – is usually one of the first signs of the disease. The hands and/or head are shaking, which is often accompanied by constant rubbing of thumb and forefinger. Tremors are most difficult when the patient does not use the affected part of the body; as soon as that part starts to move in order to perform certain actions, shaking decreases or disappears.
If the disease gets worse, the patient will gradually lose control over almost all automatic movements, such as moving arms when walking or legibly writing or articulate speech. It will become difficult to make a movement or to change the position (of the body). After a few years, a walking will be come more difficult. The patient does not feel pain, numbness or even tingling – but it will become difficult to walk. The patient will often fall because he cannot maintain the balance when walking. Even the slight movements, such as getting up from a chair, represent the increasing difficulty. The symptoms are also the excessive salivation, cramps in the abdominal cavity, and – in the later stages of the disease – decline in memory and thinking processes.
Parkinson’s disease occurs in one person out of 1000 people annually.
Most patients are older people or people at the end of middle age. Men are slightly more sensitive than women, and there is some evidence that the disease is hereditary.
Since the disease does not affect the nerves leading to the heart or other vital organs, it does not pose an immediate threat to life. However, the disease can cause severe mental depression.
What to do?
If you are 50 years old (or older) and notice a light shaking, do not worry; it happens with many people in old age. However, you should still consult your doctor if you notice some other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, or if the shaking becomes worse. The doctor will be able to make a diagnosis after the general physical examination; special tests are rarely necessary if the symptoms do not manifest in a person who is younger (i.e. below the 50).
Self-help: much can be achieved with the support and encouragement of family, and with the practical changes in the house. The patient will be mobile, for example, if you put supporting rods in the bathroom. If you have Parkinson’s disease, try to regularly engage in some kind of physical activity and try to do your everday tasks as much as you can.
Professional help: modern medications can significantly relieve the symptoms, especially stiffness and immobility. Drugs are usually not prescribed in mild cases due to some side effects. However, you will have to go to your doctor to regulal examinations every six months. If he medical treatment becomes necessary, preparations which restore the balance of dopamine and acetylcholine in the affected part of the brain are usually applied. Among other possible side effects, such as nausea, some drugs will cause mouth dryness – however, this can be considered as an advantage if the excessive secretion of saliva is of the symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, we still don’t have drugs that are effective against the shaking.
There are no therapies that could slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, but with a variety of drugs we can alleviate the symptoms of millions of patients. If you get Parkinson’s disease after the age of 60, you will probably live normally for the rest of your life.