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The Patient's Guide to ...
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According to the CDC, in the United States, Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder. There are approximately five to ten percent of people with Parkinson's disease diagnosed before the age of 50, but most are over the age of 60. The number of Americans diagnosed with PD is approximately 500,000, but it is likely that the actual number is much higher, given how many individuals go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. One million Americans are estimated to have Parkinson's disease, according to some experts. As a result of that, here is some information that will inform the public about the disease and how to recognize it.

What is Parkinson Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable, movements like stiffness shaking and coordination. As the disease progresses over time the individual may struggle to walk and talk.


What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms begin slowly. Parkinson’s signs and symptoms may include:

Tremors: A tremor is a rhythmic shaking, which starts in the limb hand or fingers. While, it can be different for everyone this symptom usually starts to happen on one side of the body.


Slowed Movement: Overtime Parkinson’s disease slows the movements, and makes simple tasks more difficult and time-consuming. Steps may become shorter, and you make drag and shuffle your feet as you walk


Rigid Muscles: Muscle stiffness occurs on any pair of the body, at the same time it also is painful and limits the range of motion.


Impaired posture or Balance: Overtime, your poster may worsen and balance problems will occur.


Loss of automatic movements: There is a decreased ability to perform automatic or unconscious movements like, blinking smiling or swinging your arms


Differences in speech and writing:  Depending on your situation, you may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before speaking. There may be more monotony in your speech than usual.



What causes Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is caused a loss of nerve cells in the brain called substantia nigra. These group of nerve cells are responsible for the movement of the body through a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help conduct tomorrow.


There are a combination of environmental and genetic factors that may be responsible for causing the disease.


Genetics: There is a multiple genetic factors that have been shown to increase a person’s risk of  developing Parkinson’s disease, but it is unclear how these genes make some people more susceptible. It can run in families, but it is rare for the disease to be inherited this way.


Environmental factors: Pesticides, herbicides, traffic and other forms of industrial pollution have a possibility to contribute to the condition.


Other causes: Certain medications, like some antipsychotic medication, induce the development of Parkinson’s disease and it’s symptoms. Also, other progressive brain conditions like  progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple systems atrophy and corticobasal degeneration, have been linked to having a higher chance of Parkinson’s disease. Also, cerebrovascular disease, which is a series of small stroke that cause parts of the brain to die have been linked to Parkinson’s disease.


Treatments for Parkinson’s disease

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are treatments available that help relieve the symptoms and maintain the quality of life.


These treatments are:

Supportive therapies: A physiotherapist can work to relieve muscle stiffness and joint pain through manipulation and exercise. Occupational therapy, ensures that your home is properly set up for you so you can maintain your independence for as long as possible. Speech and language therapy provides teaching speaking and swallowing exercise by providing assistive technology.


Medication: Medication can be used to improve the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, like the shaking, tremors and movement problems. Please consult a medical professional to learn more about the different types of medication that can be taken.


Surgery: While most people with the disease are treated with medication, deep brain stimulation surgery is used in some cases. Deep brain stimulation is surgically implanting a pulse generator into under the skin and specific areas in your brain. A tiny electric current is then produced which stimulates the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease.

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Morgan Ellis is a current undergraduate student at Spelman College pursuing an English degree with the plans of becoming a physician. She is passionate about enhancing the accessibility to healthcare, through writing, research and mentoring. This led her to join Emory University’s Health Career Collaborative where she mentored high school students, who have interest in the healthcare fields, fostering their interest in medicine, science and public health. She has also contributed her talents to the MGH Youth Neurology Research Program, where she worked with cutting edge technology, through interactive learning sessions in neurology. As a Senior Contributor at Today's Patient, Morgan strives to write about medicine and medical issues to ensure that readers get factual information to help them navigate the healthcare system.

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