Anyone who has watched the movie “Love and other drugs” may have an idea of what Parkinson’s disease (PD) is, which has as main symptoms involuntary and intense tremors, muscle stiffness and slow movement. But, unlike the protagonist, a woman in her 30s, the disease mainly affects older people – only 10% of cases happen before the age of 40. This is because Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative process of brain cells and affects the central nervous system.
Symptoms may vary depending on the stage and the patient. In its initial phase you may experience involuntary tremors and slow movements; in the most advanced stage, dementia and difficulty in swallowing appear. In addition, you may experience muscle stiffness, depression, slow movement and steps, loss of facial expressions, muscle pain, intestinal, urinary and respiratory problems.
Parkinson’s is nothing more than a degenerative process of brain cells that reaches the central nervous system. As a result, there is a decrease in the production of dopamine – a chemical that helps in controlling muscle movements. PD can also be genetic, when close family members also have it; or environmental, due to exposure to toxins.
To diagnose whether the patient has Parkinson’s, the doctor in charge will conduct a study of the patient’s symptoms and family health history, in addition to ordering some imaging tests. Another widely used method is to prescribe a medication called carbidopa-levodopa, which decreases Parkinson’s symptoms. If it works, the diagnosis is confirmed.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s. However, there are several ways to treat this disease in order to decrease symptoms and progress. It is worth mentioning that early diagnosis can contribute to treatments, since the more advanced, the more deteriorated the cells become. One is the continued use of dopamine-rich drugs, which must be prescribed by doctors. Physiotherapy sessions can help with muscle stiffness.
In more advanced cases, the doctor may even recommend surgery to install a brain pacemaker that will block nerve signals that cause tremors and muscle stiffness.