What Exactly Is Parkinson’s Disease and What Causes It

Although severity and progression of Parkinson’s disease does vary between individuals, the chronic and lifelong condition can disrupt quality of life. But what exactly is Parkinson’s disease and what causes it?

Nearly one million people are living with Parkinson’s disease, with more than 200,000 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. Though severity and progression does vary between individuals, the chronic and lifelong condition can disrupt quality of life. But what exactly is Parkinson’s disease and what causes it?

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. The condition involves the malfunction and death of neurons, nerve cells in the brain, particularly in the substantia nigra. Some of the dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical necessary to send messages in the brain to control movement and coordination. A loss of dopamine, particularly as PD progresses, causes individuals to lose their ability to control movements. Commonly, Parkinson’s disease is characterized by motor symptoms, involving movement, coordination, and mobility, though most people may also experience nonmotor symptoms. Primary and secondary motor and nonmotor symptoms may involve the following:

Primary Motor Symptoms

Resting tremors; bradykinesia (meaning “slow movement”); rigidity causing stiffness and inflexibility of the limbs, neck and trunk; and postural instability, a tendency to be unstable when standing upright

Secondary Motor Symptoms

Freezing of gait or the feeling their feet is glued to the floor; micrographia, the shrinkage in handwriting; mask-like expression, meaning a person is less expressive as usual with a decreased consciousness of facial movements; unwanted accelerations, suggestive of quick movements and excessively fast speech; and other symptoms of stooped posture, decreased arm swing, speech problems, drooling and excess saliva, and cramping

Nonmotor Symptoms

Loss of sense of smell, constipation, bladder problems, sleep and mood disorders, orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up), fatigue and loss of energy, depression, fear and anxiety, and weight loss or gain

Parkinson Disease Causes

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF), despite decades of research and data collection, the specific causes of Parkinson’s remains unknown. What scientists have identified, though, is age is an important risk factor, suggesting there is a two to four percent risk among seniors over the age of 60. While individuals vary, researchers assume and speculate the disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors:

Genetic Factors

Researchers have identified four to nine percent higher risk of developing Parkinson’s in individuals having an affected first-degree relative, including a parent or sibling. Additionally, discovered gene mutations have been shown to initiate the development of PD.

Environmental Factors

Although there is no conclusive evidence suggesting one single environmental factor causes Parkinson’s alone, scientists have investigated and made some speculations. Some research has implicated rural living, well water, manganese, and pesticides and herbicides may heighten risk.

Management and Treatment

Considering what is left to be discovered regarding Parkinson’s disease, there is no cure and reversal treatment at this time. However, there are many medications available to treat individual and associated symptoms. In fact, it is common people with PD take a variety of medications not only related to diversifying symptoms, but the progression and stages of the disease. Find more information regarding medication and treatment options here.

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