Parkinson’s Disease – The slow poison

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Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disease that causes problems with body movements. There is no cure for this chronic condition, however, with treatment, you can certainly get better and live normally.

James Parkinson (1755-1824)

An English apothecary surgeon, political activist, paleontologist and geologist, wrote An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in 1817. In that work he is thought to be the first to describe paralysis agitans (shaking palsy), a condition which Jean-Martin Charcot renamed Parkinson’s disease sixty years later.

James Parkinson systematically described six people with signs and symptoms of the disease we know today as Parkinson’s. They were not formally examined, but he observed them as they went on their daily walks, and sometimes asked them to describe their symptoms to him. In his Essay Parkinson described the characteristic resting tremor, diminished muscle strength, paralysis, unusual posture and gait, and how the disease progresses over time.

The Run Up to Parkinson’s

The dopamine cells in your body control your motor movement. With Parkinson’s, there is a degeneration of these dopamine cells, that causes a progressive decline in motor skills and co-ordination of muscles.

Though genetics does play a part in Parkinson’s, there is no evidence proving that this condition is hereditary. Both genetic as well as environmental factors contribute to the development of Parkinson’s. Some of the factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition are head injury, being exposed to harmful toxins, a family history of the condition or old age.

Symptoms

The main symptoms of this neurodegenerative condition are tremors in the legs, head or hands, the Parkinson’s (shuffling) gait, chronic stiffness of the muscles and an inability to maintain postural balance.

Here is a list of the symptoms that provide early indications of Parkinson’s:

  1. Thrashing around in your sleep

It may be normal to toss and turn in your sleep. But sudden flailing or jerky movements in sleep could be an early indicator. If you exhibit symptoms such as falling out of bed, kicking and punching fitfully or even thrashing in your sleep, it could be an indicator of the condition. Seek medical help if these symptoms recur.

  1. Blank stare or masking

With a loss in muscle movement, there is stiffness of facial expressions called masking. Masking is one of the noticeable symptoms of Parkinson’s in the early stages. People diagnosed with this condition have a blank or serious expression even when the conversation is genial, and blink less frequently.

  1. Changes in your voice and tone

In the latter stages of this condition, the symptoms of slurry speech and monotonous tone become very evident. But traces of this symptom can be detected even at the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. This condition may cause you to speak in lower tones, with a hoarse voice and with lesser voice modulation. These symptoms may not be clearly discernible at the preliminary stages of this disorder.

  1. Slouching and changes in posture

Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder; as it progresses, the symptoms manifest themselves and then worsen with time. Hence, the shuffling gait as well as postural imbalance begin at an early stage and slowly deteriorate. It may be normal to slouch or hunch, but for those who suffer from Parkinson’s, the loss of muscle co-ordination is long-term. If you experience discernible slouching, stooping posture or an evident hunch, it may be indicative of Parkinson’s.

  1. Constipation

One of the symptoms that you may notice early on in this condition is constipation. If you suffer from constipation, for reasons other than a low fiber diet and consuming less water, then you should visit a general physician. Patients with Parkinson’s disease experience strain and struggle with bowel movement. However, constipation is a common problem that is not exclusively related to the condition of Parkinson’s.

  1. Sudden change in handwriting

One observable effect of suffering from Parkinson’s is a shift to smaller, cramped handwriting. Patients may note a sudden change in the size and style of their handwriting. Those who suffer from this disease, have stiffness in the hand and finger muscles, which make it tough to hold the pencil while writing. Parkinson’s affects the patient’s motor skills, which include all small movements such as writing, drawing or eating. Hence, if you detect a sudden alteration in the size of your writing, it may point to the condition of Parkinson’s.

  1. Minor twitches and tremors

Tremors and twitches are one of the most noticeable symptoms in the later stages of the disease. But this symptom begins and progresses gradually. You might notice twitches or minuscule tremors in the fingers, hand, foot, leg, arm and other parts of the body as well. Though the tremors may not be very noticeable, if you experience them, it is important to get a check-up.

  1. Stiffness of the body

Parkinson’s is a mobility related disorder; it causes symptoms such as a shuffling gait, jerky movement, or uncoordinated motor skills. These serious symptoms may become evident only in the advanced stages of the disease. However, rigidity or stiffness of the body and slow movement could be early signs of Parkinson’s. It might be usual to experience slower movements or stiffness of the arms and legs with old age. But if these symptoms persist and you find it difficult to walk or move around, it might be an early warning of Parkinson’s disease.

Treatment

There is no standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD). Treatment for each person with Parkinson’s is based on his or her symptoms.

Treatments include medication and surgical therapy. Other treatments include lifestyle modifications, like getting more rest and exercise.

There are many medications available to treat the Parkinson’s symptoms, although none yet that reverse the effects of the disease. It is common for people with PD to take a variety of these medications — all at different doses and at different times of day — to manage symptoms.

While keeping track of medications can be a challenging task, understanding your medications and sticking to a schedule will provide the greatest benefit from the drugs and avoid unpleasant “off” periods due to missed doses.

Finally, proper moral and mental support from the family and well wishers is the only powerful treatment for the disease.

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