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Parkinson's disease: Causes, symptoms, stages, diagnosis & treatment

Parkinson's disease: Causes, symptoms, stages, diagnosis & treatment

Ahmed Raza

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. This neurodegenerative disorder affects cells in a specific area of the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the associated symptoms make Parkinson’s disease the 14th cause of death in the United States.

Parkinson’s disease causes stiffness or slowing of movement. It can start so gradually that it is often missed in the early stages. Empowering you and your family with information can help your family get an earlier diagnosis. This article will cover what to expect regarding Parkinson’s disease causes, symptoms, stages, diagnosis, and treatments.

Causes

The cause of Parkinson’s disease is mostly unknown. Those with Parkinson’s have low dopamine concentrations in their brain. However, some factors may increase the risk of Parkinson’s.

Experts think that a combination of factors such as genetic mutations, lifestyle factors, and environmental effects cause the degenerative disorder. It is more likely to occur in men over the age of 60 years old. Chemicals like trichloroethylene (TCEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) also increase the risk for Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease vary depending on how far the disease has progressed. Signs and symptoms are gradual and often start with a slight hand tremor. As the person with Parkinson’s advances along the spectrum, the signs and symptoms of the disorder worsen.

Parkinson’s signs and symptoms include:

As the disease progresses, the following may occur as a result of the above symptoms:

Stages of Parkinson’s disease

There are five stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease may be challenging as the symptoms are mild at first. There is no specific test that diagnoses the illness. A neurologist, a doctor specializing in nervous system conditions, will evaluate your case. If it is early in the process, a follow-up appointment may confirm worsening symptoms.

The neurologist will ask questions like:

They will base their diagnosis on your medical history, signs, symptoms, and a neurological and physical exam. The neuro exam will cover mental status, balance, motor function, and a sensory exam. This will cover items like:

Your healthcare provider may order other tests, such as blood work or imaging like an MRI. However, instead of diagnosing Parkinson’s, these tests rule out other conditions that may be causing these symptoms. In rare cases, you may receive a dopamine transporter scan (DaTscan) to support the suspicion of Parkinson’s.

Treatments

There are many medical and surgical options for treatments for Parkinson’s, but no cure. Some medications will manage problems with walking, tremors, and movement by increasing dopamine. Dopamine cannot directly enter your brain.

People with Parkinson’s disease have medication options:

There is also a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation, in which the surgeon implants electrodes into your brain that connect to a generator in your chest. The generator near your collarbone sends impulses to your brain to reduce symptoms. There are risks like infection, stroke, or bleeding.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is best for those with advanced Parkinson’s disease who have unstable responses to their drug regimen. However, it will not cure Parkinson’s nor stop it from advancing.

Questions to ask healthcare providers about Parkinson’s disease

Getting a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease can seem overwhelming. For others, it may be helpful to finally understand the changes you’re experiencing. However, having a support network and working with your medical team is important. You should ask questions after the diagnosis, such as:

Bottom line

While the cornerstone of Parkinson’s disease is worsening symptoms, there are ways to reduce them as the disease advances. The most crucial part of the treatment plan is a supportive network, coping tools, and safety measures. Coping tools include meditation, tai chi, yoga, or seeing a trusted therapist.

If balance becomes a problem, it is crucial to prepare the bathroom with grab bars and remove rugs. An occupational therapist can help with other strategies to promote safety.

Unfortunately, treatment cannot cure Parkinson’s disease, but you can manage the symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider or neurologist to start the conversation if you suspect that you or a loved one is symptomatic with Parkinson’s disease.

If you have questions about performing CPR for those with dementia, Pacific ACLS provides courses and a guide to first aid for people with dementia to give you a more in-depth look.

Works cited

  1. Centers for Disease Control. LCWK5: Deaths, percent of total deaths, and death rates for the 15 leading causes of death: United States and Each State, 2017. Updated December 31, 2018. Accessed October 17, 2022.
  2. Parkinson’s Foundation. Environmental factors. Accessed October 17, 2022.
  3. Mayo Clinic. Parkinson’s disease. Updated July 8, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2022.
  4. Bastiaan RB, Okun MS, Klein C. Parkinson’s Disease. Lancet. 2021;397(10291):2284-2303.

Written by on Jan 21, 2021

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

Last reviewed and updated by on Oct 18, 2022

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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