What is Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects approximately 10 million people worldwide, and that number is projected to increase with the aging population. In the United States alone, nearly 1 million people are living with Parkinson’s disease, and about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Despite its prevalence, many people are unfamiliar with this disease and its symptoms.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain, which leads to a decrease in the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate movement and mood. The disease typically affects people over the age of 60, but it can also occur in younger people. Men are more likely than women to develop Parkinson’s disease.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can vary from person to person, but typically include
- Tremors: a rhythmic shaking that usually begins in the hands
- Bradykinesia: slowness of movement and speed or progressive hesitations/halts as movements are continued.
- Rigid muscles/stiffness: may occur in any part of your body. This can be painful and limit the range of motion.
- Difficulty with balance/coordination: a stooped posture may lead to instability and cause falls and other balance problems.
- Loss of unconscious movements: including blinking, smiling, or swinging your arms when you walk
- Changes in speech: they may slur words, mumble or trail off at the end of a sentence
- Writing changes: writing may appear very small and it may become difficult to write at all.
Tell Your Doctor
If you are concerned about Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to communicate with your doctor. Your doctor may ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam to look for signs of the disease. They may also order imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, to help with making a diagnosis. Keep a journal of symptoms and make a list of your questions before your visit with the doctor (download our free doctor visit checklist).
If you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to remember that there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms. As a matter of fact, most people with Parkinson’s disease now have a normal or near-normal life expectancy. Treatments may include medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.
A Google search will reveal many resources to help you learn more about Parkinson’s disease and connect with others who are living with the disease. Here are a couple of good places to start:
- The Parkinson’s Foundation offers a wealth of information and resources, including support groups and educational materials.
- The Michael J. Fox Foundation is another great resource, as they fund research to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
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