Parkinson’s Disease: Early Warning Signs, Management and Prevention

Parkinson’s disease is a common and debilitating condition generally affecting elderly people – there are very few ways to prevent it’s occurrence but early detection is very important and there are many treatments available to slow it’s progression and prevent deterioration.

Parkinson’s disease affects one in every thousand people and this increases to one in every hundred people over the age of sixty. It affects both genders equally and is rare under the age of fifty. Parkinsonism is characterised by tremors, muscular rigidity, slow movements, loss of reflexes and the inability to perform voluntary movements.

Parkinson’s is caused by changes in the chemistry of the brain. The chemical dopamine is either not released properly or isn’t recognised properly by receptors. Also, the part of the brain which produces dopamine, the substantia nigra, starts to die off. This decreases the amount of this chemical available in the brain and causes muscle movements to become slow and abnormal. Many external factors can influence this condition, eg. Dopamine-depleting drugs like Reserpine, toxins like manganese, repeated head injury, Huntington’s disease and Japanese ‘B’ encephalitis. Ecstacy can also cause Parkinson’s in drug addicts and is more common in country areas sprayed with herbicides.

Clinical features:

Diagnosis is usually made when these signs are present but several other investigations can be used to confirm this, including blood tests and brain scans (CT scan).

Treatment generally requires drugs known as L-dopa containing agents, which help to replenish the low levels of dopamine in the brain. Other drugs can also be used, eg. Anticholinergics, Amantidine and Selegiline. Surgery has not generally proved beneficial, but physiotherapy and speech therapy can help to slow deterioration.

Young patients may experience a shortened life span but length of life should be normal for patients over seventy. People can live with Parkinson’s for many years without any severe limitation of functioning, as can be seen in Michael J Fox’s success following his diagnosis. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be at risk of Parkinson’s disease, see your doctor for regular checkups and get a diagnosis as early as possible.

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