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Demystifying Parkinson’s Disease

By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComDemystifying Parkinson’s Disease

It is said that what you don’t know won’t harm you. That being said, it surely won’t harm to know that you do not have Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Presently, there is no way to find out if you have Parkinson’s disease unless your PD is already at an advancing or advanced stage. At its advanced stage, this condition could be so cruel, vicious, treacherous, and dehumanizing that no one would ever want this to happen, even to his worst enemy. My wife and I have been through the more vicious PD episodes and given what we experienced, we care enough to want to help others know and understand how PD happens even before it gets worse.

Best Treatment Starts at Onset

Every movement specialist will affirm that the best time to begin treatment for Parkinson ’s disease is at its onset. This confidence proceeds from knowing that, if it were known much earlier, enough leeway may be given to lessen its impact and prevent the brain cells from faster aggravation. In this way, patients have a higher chance to lead a normal and productive life.

But the biggest problem with PD is that the confirmation of its diagnosis happens some four or five years after it has manifested. Most patients mistake the early symptoms of PD for ordinary body reactions to stresses. The only time that they would decide to see a movement specialist is when the symptoms become noticeable and socially disruptive. This is why it is important to see a PD specialist as soon as the symptoms appear.

How Does PD Start?

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder of the brain that relates to movement and emotions. The disorder is triggered by the gradual deterioration of the brain cells called dopamine which are responsible for transmitting messages to produce smooth and controlled movements of the different parts of the body. The cells die for yet unknown reasons which is why there is no cure that would reverse or stop the cells’ dying process. As more cells die, the disorder progresses and manifests itself in worsening stages, even affecting other cells in the brain.

Although recent findings report that there are younger patients diagnosed with PD, it is generally observed that PD affects patients mostly aged 60 and above. It is highly suspected that PD might be caused by lifestyle, environment, or genes. Lifestyle refer to the stresses from daily activities, diet included. On the other hand, environment pertains to the pollution, pesticides, and substances that affect us and our surrounding, while genetic factor refers to the bad genes that we can inherit and pass on.

If one finds association with any of these three risks and begins to exhibit the following symptoms, it is wise to consult a movement disorder specialist to check whether it is a Parkinson’s disease:

Tremors. Tremors seem to be the earliest indicators of PD. They are tiny, fast trembling movement of the moving parts of the body, usually the fingers, and sometimes or later the hands, head, jaw, or lips. Tremors usually manifest on the left side, as in the fingers of the left hand. They occur while at rest while the person is busy with something, but promptly disappear when noticed.

Slowness of movement. This is a symptom that usually follows after the appearance of tremors. Voluntary movement is slow, and the patient may find it difficult to initiate or complete a motion.

Stiffness or rigidity. This symptom manifests as a loss of movement resulting in stiffness, which may cause muscle pains.

Postural instability. When the above symptoms progress, they may result in impaired reflexes and cause loss of balance or postural instability. If this loss of balance is not addressed early, it may cause occasional falls.

Stooping gait. The postural instability mentioned earlier may progress to a stooped posture or gait when walking. Patients walk in small shuffling steps in a stooped position, making it difficult to start the steps or making a turn. It is common to see patients stopping in the middle of a walk when they exhibit this episode.

Smaller handwriting. The movement changes in the hands could easily affect what they can do. The most obvious effect is the handwriting, especially the signature, where the size becomes smaller and distorted.

Constipation. One of the early common symptoms of PD which does not manifest openly is the effect it has on the digestive system. PD reduces the efficiency of the digestive process inside the GI tracks resulting in difficulty of passing hard stools.

Loss of smell. Results of studies indicate that majority of PD patients have a reduced or impaired sense of smell. A smell test can confirm or rule out Parkinson’s disease.

These are just some of the more common symptoms, or more appropriately, early warning signs or indicators of PD. Most of these are also individually traceable to other diseases which makes people postpone their decision to see a specialist. For instance, tremors may also be exhibited after a strenuous exercise, or may be caused by a medicine. Slowness may be caused by fatigue. Handwriting may change with age. A bout with flu or colds can affect the sense of smell. Constipation may be triggered by the kind of food ingested.

When two or three of these early warning signs are exhibited, it is recommended that the person should see a movement disorder specialist right away. This professional is usually a neurologist with special training in dealing with movement disorders which include Parkinson’s disease. What you find out in your medical consultation can only be in your best interest. If Parkinson’s Disease is ruled out, you should be glad you consulted. If it is affirmed, you and your doctor can now chart the best treatment strategy that would enable you to lead a normal productive life.

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