According to the Parkinson's Foundation, nearly one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson's disease (PD)—more than the total number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig's disease (or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Every year, an additional 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder. Who is most at risk for incurable disorder, what are the symptoms, and what is the number one cause? Read on to find out—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.
What Is Parkinson's?
"Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that occurs when brain cells that produce dopamine die," Amar Patel, MD, Movement Disorders Specialist, Yale Medicine, explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. "The brain requires dopamine to properly coordinate movement." What does it feel like when this happens to your body? Michael J. Fox, the actor and founder of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, once described it this way to Esquire: "I can't control my body the way I want to, and I can't control when I feel good or when I don't. I can control how clear my mind is. And I can control how willing I am to step up if somebody needs me."
What Is the #1 Cause of Parkinson's?
According to the Parkinson's Foundation, age is one of the biggest risk factors for Parkinson's. Most folks usually develop the disease around age 60 or older. However, four percent of people with the condition are under the age of 50. Fox, for example, was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991 at 29.
What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson's?
Yale Medicine explains that there are six key early symptoms of Parkinson's to look out for:
- An occasional tremor
- A change in handwriting
- Unexplained muscle stiffness
- Occasional mood changes
- A loss in sense of smell
- Frequent constipation
Said Fox recently to the Guardian: "I used to walk fast, but every step is now like a frigging math problem, so I take it slow."
Symptoms Worsen Over Time
Parkinson's is a progressive disorder. "Parkinson's is a lifelong and progressive disease, with symptoms that worsen slowly over time," explains Dr. Patel. "After about five to 10 years, these symptoms—especially loss of motor control—will become more pronounced as the nervous system continues to deteriorate. Activities that require hand-eye coordination, like driving, writing, or sports, will become more difficult," Yale Medicine explains.
Parkinson's Can Lead to Other Debilitating Health Conditions
In later stages of the disease, nerve damage worsens. Parkinson's can then lead to a bunch of other health conditions, including dementia, mood disorders, anxiety, and severe loss of motor control, such as bladder function and the ability to walk, per Yale Medicine.
It Affects Everyone Differently
Yale Medicine does point out that not everyone experiences debilitating symptoms immediately. "It's important to note that Parkinson's disease manifests itself differently in each patient," they explain. "Some people will be able to continue working and enjoy regular hobbies for many years after diagnosis, while others will have more severe symptoms that require major lifestyle adjustments."
What Are the Other Risk Factors?
The Parkinson's Foundation reveals that men are 1.5 times more likely to have it then women. Yale Medicine also points to other factors that may influence the disease's development, including exposure to pesticides. They also note that around 15% of cases have a clear genetics component.
There Is No Cure
While there is no cure for Parkinson's Yale Medicine explains that medications, exercise, and diet changes can help manage symptoms. However, early on in the disease, it is possible that medication will not be used initially, per Yale. However, once symptoms start "interfering with daily life," a medication will likely be prescribed to help boost their dopamine levels that diminish as nerve cell damage progresses.
What to Do If You Think You Have Parkinson's
If you are experiencing motor symptoms of stiffness, slowness, or tremor, it is recommended to have an evaluation by a neurologist, suggests Dr. Patel. "A neurologist specializing in Movement Disorders can be particularly helpful, as the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease is made clinically, as a result of a thorough history and examination." And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.