What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Did you know that Parkinson’s Disease affects 50% more men than women? In the U.S., approximately one million adults live with Parkinson’s, and more than 60,000 are diagnosed each year. The number could be even higher when factoring in those that are undiagnosed and undetected. What exactly is Parkinson’s Disease, what are its symptoms and what can you do to prevent it? We’ve answered some of those questions and more below.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. The disease affects the part of your brain that controls your movement. It happens when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough of a brain chemical called dopamine. Sometimes it is genetic, but most cases do not seem to run in families. Exposure to chemicals in the environment might play a role. In the majority of cases, symptoms start to appear after the age of 60.

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease will typically get worse over time, in a gradual progression. Those with Parkinson’s will progressively have difficulty walking, talking, as well as mental and behavioral changes. In addition, the disease may cause trouble sleeping, depression, extreme fatigue, and memory issues.

Because Parkinson’s Disease affects those over the age of 60, the symptoms are often assumed to be a part of natural aging changes. This assumption may lead to a late diagnosis or no diagnosis at all. To help prevent overlooking key symptoms pay attention to the four primary symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, which are:

  • Trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
  • Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination, sometimes leading to falls

What is the Cause of Parkinson’s Disease?

As dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to signs of Parkinson’s disease. The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease (such as why do the dopamine levels decrease) is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including genetics and environmental factors. Specific genetic mutations have been identified that can cause the disease but are rare as it requires multiple family members to have been affected by Parkinson’s. The environmental factors that can lead to the disease include exposure to certain toxins, but again, represent a smaller percentage of those diagnosed.

How Can You Diagnose or Detect Parkinson’s Disease?

A notable advocate of Parkinson’s research and development is Michael J. Fox. The Michael J Fox Foundation developed a Questionnaire that is designed to help you identify and possibly diagnose Parkinson’s early on giving you the best chance to treat it. Those questions include:

  1. Have you been getting slower in your usual daily activities?
  2. Is your handwriting smaller?
  3. Is your speech slurred or softer?
  4. Do you have trouble arising from a chair?
  5. Do your lips, hand, arms and/or legs shake?
  6. Have you noticed more stiffness?
  7. Do you have trouble buttoning buttons or dressing?
  8. Do you shuffle your feet and/or take smaller steps when you walk?
  9. Do your feet seem to get stuck to the floor when walking or turning?
  10. Have you or others noted that you don’t swing one arm when walking?
  11. Do you have more trouble with your balance?
  12. Have you or others noted that you stoop or have abnormal posture?

You should discuss any of these symptoms or your concerns with your physician. The slow progression of the disease makes it difficult to detect, but by paying attention to the symptoms, you can help identify it early and take proactive steps to treat it. Check out the Michael J. Fox Foundation questionnaire today to evaluate your current state.