Parkinson’s disease, which afflicts around 1 million Americans, is a degenerative disorder that occurs when the brain’s dopamine-producing neurons die or become impaired. This happens in the part of the brain that controls movement, which can cause tremors (or shaking), stiffness and difficulty with walking, balance and coordination.
The symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time, and the progression of symptoms is often different from one person to another. Some people with Parkinson’s become severely disabled, while others may experience only minor motor disruptions.
While the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, scientists believe genetics and environmental factors (exposure to certain toxins) play a key role. Most people with Parkinson’s first develop the disease around age 60 or older, and men are more likely to develop it than women.
Early warning signs
Parkinson’s is difficult to diagnose because there’s no definitive test to confirm it. Doctors, usually neurologists, will do an examination and evaluate a combination of warning signs, but symptoms can vary greatly by patient, which often leads to confusion and misdiagnosis. Here are some of the key signs and symptoms everyone should know:
Currently, there is no known cure, but there are a variety of medications that can provide relief from symptoms. In some later cases, surgery may be advised. Other treatments include lifestyle modifications, like getting more rest and exercise.
For more information, visit the Parkinson’s Foundation at Parkinson.org.