Parkinson Disease

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What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is an illness that causes some of the cells in your brain to stop working and makes you slowly lose the ability to control your muscle movements. It happens mostly in older people, but not always. People under the age of 40 can be diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease. Michael J. Fox, the movie actor and Mohammed Ali, the boxer both have Parkinson's.

Unfortunately, in most people, what causes the cells to stop working isn't known, but for some the cause can be found. It can happen because of blood vessel problems, infection, toxins like pesticides or carbon monoxide, some medicines, head injury or repeated trauma (from sports like boxing for example), tumors, an area in the brain where cells have died, water-on-the-brain, and problems from the thyroid and parathyroid glands. Although Parkinson's disease is not hereditary, it does appear to run in some families.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease?

  • Tremor or shaking in one or both hands, especially when at rest. The tremor is commonly called "pill rolling" because it looks like you are trying to roll a pill between your fingers
  • Rigidity (freezing and stiffening of muscles)
  • Very slow movements
  • Trouble with walking, especially when trying to get started
  • Troubling with swallowing, you may find that you are sometimes drooling
  • Loss of facial expression
  • Trouble speaking
  • Tiring easily
  • Aches and pains
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Urgent and frequent need to urinate
  • Constipation

What tests are needed?

Lab tests are generally not done. Your doctor will examine you and ask a lot of questions about your history and symptoms. Your doctor will determine how bad your Parkinson's is.

Lab tests may be done to see if you have other problems. A blood test can check your thyroid and parathyroid glands. Your doctor may do a blood or urine test to check how much copper is in your body. Copper builds up in people who have a disease called Wilson's disease. The symptoms of this disease are similar to the symptoms in Parkinson's.

Sometimes, an MRI or CT (computed tomography) scan are done to see if there is water-on-the-brain or if there area areas of damage in your brain that might be causing Parkinson's.

Sometimes a PET scan is done. A PET scan makes a picture of your brain that shows changes caused by the Parkinson's.

What treatment is needed?

There are many kinds of medicines used for treatment of Parkinson's. They can ease the symptoms and help you to keep up your normal activity.

Surgery may be done when symptoms become very bad and medicines aren't helping. There are three types of surgery. In the first type of surgery, the brain cells that are causing some of the movement problems are very carefully destroyed. Another type of surgery is transplantation of cells from an embryo into a person's brain. The embryo cells work in place of the diseased brain cells. The last type of surgery involves placement of small electrodes in the brain. The electrodes stimulate diseased areas in the brain, and help improve symptoms.

Occupational therapy can help you keep working. It shows you how to adjust your hours and your work area so that you can keep doing your work.

What should I do?

Call your doctor if you think that you have symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

How can Parkinson's disease be avoided?

Avoid things that are known to cause Parkinson's disease, such as toxins (pesticides, carbon monoxide, methanol, cyanide, manganese), and the type of sports that cause head injury (such as boxing).


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