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Healthy Living

What to Know About Parkinson’s Disease

Aug 29 2018
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Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, risks and treatment

Public figures such as Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, Janet Reno and Neil Diamond have helped make many of us more aware of Parkinson’s Disease. But how much do you really know about this progressive neurological disorder? Could you recognize the signs in yourself or a loved one?

When exploring major health concerns, the focus often starts with prevention. When it comes to Parkinson’s Disease, there are a lot of unknowns.

Doctors know that Parkinson’s is caused when the part of the brain that makes dopamine shrinks and stops working, also known as degeneration. What doctors don’t yet know is what causes that degeneration. Therefore, no risk factors, prevention strategy or cure has been identified.

What we do know is that there is reason for hope. With the right treatment, symptoms can be managed and Parkinson’s patients can live active, high-quality lives for decades after diagnosis.

What are some of the warning signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The earliest symptom is a tremor that usually happens when someone is at rest or distracted. The tremor typically starts in one hand and will start to go away when the person starts an activity.

Other symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include:

  • Moving more slowly
  • Changes in handwriting
  • Problems swallowing
  • Balance issues
  • Stooped posture
  • Memory problems
  • Stiff arms and legs
  • Coordination problems

While Parkinson’s can strike at any age, it’s most common in adults 50+. Those who are diagnosed earlier usually have a more aggressive form of the disease.

One of the most common misconceptions is that Parkinson’s Disease is hereditary. Unless you have a first-degree relative—a sibling or parent—who was diagnosed before age 40, you are at no more risk than anyone else.

How do you know when it’s time to see a doctor for Parkinson’s Disease?

You should see a doctor if:

  • You’ve had a persistent tremor for at least six months
  • You’ve had a tremor for a shorter amount of time, with more bad days than good ones
  • You experience two or more of the other warning signs

While a tremor is a key sign, not all tremors are created equal. Stress, anxiety, caffeine intake, infection and hyperthyroidism can cause or exacerbate tremors. These causes are all much more common than Parkinson’s Disease. Even if you suspect your tremor isn’t Parkinson’s-related, see a healthcare professional, as it could still require medical treatment.

Long-term use of certain psychiatric medications can block dopamine production and mimic Parkinson’s. This can often be reversed by changing medication. There are also other less well-known and less common diseases that can look like Parkinson’s Disease.

While there isn’t a specific test for Parkinson’s, a neurologist can diagnose the disease through a complete physical exam and thorough review of your medical history. Tests are often conducted to rule out other conditions that may mimic Parkinson’s.

What about treatment?

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, there are many effective options for managing the symptoms. Medication can be used to control tremors. Additionally, physical, occupational and speech therapy can help with balance and swallowing issues. If medication and therapy don’t help achieve desired results, deep brain stimulation surgery is an option.

Most Parkinson’s patients respond well to medication and therapy and find that by controlling their symptoms, they are able to live full lives—staying active, traveling and living independently.

If you are or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, the Mercy Health team is here to help. Ask your primary care provider about a referral to the Mercy Health Neuroscience Institute for an evaluation. Visit mercy.com to learn more today.


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