Parkinson's is a progressive neurological movement disorder that causes tremor, stiff muscles, unsteadiness, coordination problems and slowness of movement. Symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time. While there is no known cure for Parkinson's disease, medications may significantly reduce symptoms.
Who is at risk of Parkinson's disease?
The truth is, Parkinson's disease is much more common than people think. When Michael J. Fox disclosed his condition in 1998, he launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which the New York Times has called "the most credible voice on Parkinson's research in the world." Even after the star’s many efforts, public understanding of this disease remains somewhat minimal.
While Parkinson's is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 60, up to 10% of patients are diagnosed before the age of 50. Additionally, men are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease than women. There are over 60,000 total cases diagnosed between both men and women each year.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's disease?
- Tremor: Shaking or trembling of the limbs, often the hands or fingers
- Bradykinesia (slowness of movement): Reduction of mobility and slowing of movement over time
- Issues with coordination and balance: Posture may become stooped or balance problems may occur
- Rigid muscles and stiff limbs: Stiffness and pain in any part of the body
- Muscle spasms, cramps and twisting: Painful cramping in the feet or other areas
- Hallucinations or delusions: Between 20 and 40% of people with Parkinson’s report experiences of hallucinations
How is Parkinson's disease treated and prevented?
Because the cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, there are no known cures. However, medications have been shown to greatly reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. In some cases, doctors will suggest surgery — called deep brain stimulation (DBS) — which has also been shown to relieve symptoms. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Nuplazid, the first and only drug approved to treat hallucinations and delusions associated with Parkinson's disease.
As far as prevention goes, some research has shown that consistent aerobic exercise might reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, but the fact remains that anyone can be at risk of Parkinson's and there is, unfortunately, not much that can be done to prevent it. Other research has shown that individuals who consume caffeine are at a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
Is Parkinson's disease becoming more common?
According to a study conducted by Parkinson's Foundation, 2020 results showed 930,000 people with Parkinson's disease in the US. By the year 2030, a projected 1.2 million people in the US will have Parkinson's disease. The study showed that Parkinson's prevalence has nearly doubled since the year 1978, and that — while men are more likely to have Parkinson's than women — the number of people diagnosed increases with age, regardless of sex.
Are doctor's getting better at diagnosing Parkinson's Disease?
Early symptoms of Parkinson's disease often overlap with many other disorders and there are no specific diagnostic tests available. This makes it difficult to diagnose the disease. Fortunately, imaging tests — such as CT and MRI scans — may be used to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms. With improvements in medical research and collection of patient history, diagnosing Parkinson's disease is, slowly but surely, becoming easier for medical professionals.
While a cure for Parkinson's disease has yet to be found, medical practices and understanding are improving with each passing year. Due to the lack of diagnostic testing and preventative medicine, it's essential that you be proactive and speak with your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms.
This article first appeared in the April 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.