Finding out you have Parkinson's disease can be terrifying. But educating yourself about the disease, its symptoms and what can be expected as it progresses, can make the prospects of PD less frightening.
Parkinson's disease's symptoms are the result of a deficiency of dopamine. This neurotransmitter normally sends signals to the brain so that muscles move smoothly.
But in people with Parkinson's disease, 80 percent or higher of cells that should manufacture dopamine are dead, damaged or dysfunctional. The person with PD is unable to regulate muscle movement in a normal fashion as nerve cells fire in a haphazard manner.
Symptoms can start to appear without being identified as signs of Parkinson's. They may not be noticed in the beginning because they are often subtle, and emerge gradually.
The individual may assume that they are indications of being tired or the result of being too busy or of getting older. But as symptoms become more pronounced, or as speech becomes slurred or slow, the individual will suspect that something more serious is wrong.
Parkinson's is marked by tremor or shaking in the arms, face, hands, jaw and legs.
The trunk, arms and legs may be stiff or rigid. Movements are slow (bradykinesia). Balance and coordination are poor, and posture is unsteady.
Your arms may no longer swing when you walk. It may be hard to move your feet in your attempts to walk. Your shoulders and hips may be stiff or painful.
You may slouch, stoop or lean when in a standing position. Getting up from a chair may cause dizziness or fainting because your blood pressure may be low because of Parkinson's disease.
Handwriting may become smaller, or words written on a page may be crowded together.
Your sense of smell may change, and you may become less able to smell some foods.
When you're asleep, you may experience sudden uncontrolled movements, or you may fall out of bed.
A change in your voice, so that your voice is hoarse or soft can be a symptom of Parkinson's. Your face may look angry, sad or serious in what is called "masking". You may not blink as often as normal and may seem to be staring.
Parkinson's can also adversely affect mood and cognitive function. Mental abilities can eventually be affected as changes continue in the brain. It may become harder to remember things, to pay attention, or to make plans or decisions.
Lewy bodies are microscopic deposits of the abnormal protein alpha-synuclein in the brain. They can appear as Parkinson's develops.
Parkinson's disease occurs in about 2 percent of Americans over the age of 65. One million people in the United States have PD according to the National Parkinson Foundation. Parkinson's dementia occurs in 50-80 percent of people with Parkinson's disease.
See a doctor if you think you might have Parkinson's. Early intervention can give you a chance of living with fewer or less severe symptoms. Medication that replaces the missing dopamine may relieve symptoms.
Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist (brain specialist), a physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist.
Parkinson's Disease Information. Parkinsons.org. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2014.
10 Early Warning Signs of Parkinson's Disease. Parkinsons.org. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2014.
Parkinson's Disease Dementia. Alz.org. Retrieved Aug. 19, 2014.
Visit Jody's website at http://www.ncubator.ca
Reviewed August 21, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN