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Sure Signs You Have Parkinson's Like Michael J. Fox

Doctor explains what to know about Parkinson’s and symptoms to watch out for.

In the '80s there were few bigger names in Hollywood than Michael J. Fox. He was a huge box office success thanks to Back to the Future and his sitcom Family Ties made him a TV star and household name. But in 1991, he learned he was in for the biggest fight of his life. The actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's–a nervous system disorder that affects movement, but he didn't publicly share the news until 1998. Fox was only 29 at the time and newly married. For years, he still took on acting gigs, but has scaled back the acting gigs now, and he still remains active in advocating for Parkinson's. For decades he's been raising awareness for the disease and launched his foundation back in 2000, which has since raised more than a billion dollars for research, according to an interview Fox did with AARP. Nearly 1 million people in the United States are living with the condition, the Parkinson's Foundation states and to learn more about the symptoms of Parkinson's we spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explains signs to watch out for.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Parkinson's?


Dr. Mitchell says, "Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to control muscle movement. It is a progressive disease, meaning that it gradually worsens over time. Early symptoms of Parkinson's include tremors or trembling in the hands and limbs. As the disease progresses, patients may experience stiffness in the muscles, difficulty balancing, and difficulties with speech and swallowing. Parkinson's is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps to control muscle movement. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but there are treatments that can help improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease."


Who is at Risk for Parkinson's?


Dr. Mitchell explains, "Age. The risk of Parkinson's disease increases with age. Most people with Parkinson's are over the age of 60. However, young people can also develop the condition.

Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop Parkinson's disease.

Family history. Having a family member with Parkinson's disease increases your risk of developing the condition.

Environmental factors. Exposure to certain toxins, such as pesticides and herbicides, may increase your risk of developing Parkinson's disease

Head injuries. Traumatic brain injuries have been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease. When the injury affects the brain area responsible for movement, it can cause problems with movement and balance, which are characteristic features of Parkinson's disease.

Genetics. Mutations in certain genes are associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease. Mutations in the genes PARK2, PINK1, and DJ-1 are linked to an inherited form of Parkinson's disease known as familial Parkinson's disease. People with these mutations typically develop symptoms younger than those with idiopathic Parkinson's disease.

Lifestyle choices. Smoking and heavy alcohol use have been associated with an increased risk of Parkinsons' Disease."


What Causes Parkinson's?


According to Dr. Mitchell, "Though the exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, experts believe several contributing factors may play a role. For example, one theory points to a loss of nerve cells in a specific brain area known as the substantia nigra. This region is responsible for producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate movement. A reduction in dopamine levels can lead to muscle control and coordination problems. Another possible cause of Parkinson's disease is damage to the mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. This damage can cause inflammation and cell death. In some cases, genetic factors may also contribute to the development of Parkinson's disease. For example, mutations in specific genes have increased the risk of developing the condition. Though the exact cause of Parkinson's disease remains a mystery, researchers continue to work to uncover the underlying causes of this debilitating condition."


How Parkinson's Affects Daily Life and Overall Health?


"Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects the nervous system," Dr. Mitchell says. "This disease can cause tremors, muscle rigidity, and problems with balance and coordination. In addition, Parkinson's can also lead to cognitive impairments, depression, and anxiety. The symptoms of Parkinson's can vary from person to person, and the severity of the symptoms can also change over time. In general, the symptoms of Parkinson's tend to worsen as the disease progresses. Parkinson's disease can significantly impact a person's daily life. The most common symptom of Parkinson's is tremors, making simple tasks like brushing your teeth or eating difficult. The loss of muscle control can also make it hard to walk or even stand up. In addition, Parkinson's can also cause fatigue and sleep problems. The cognitive impairments associated with Parkinson's can make it difficult to concentrate or remember things. Depression and anxiety are also common in people with Parkinson's, further impacting their quality of life."


How Does Parkinson's Lead to Death?


Dr. Mitchell states, "Parkinson's disease is a chronic and progressive neurological disorder that affects motor and nonmotor neurons. The main symptoms of Parkinson's disease are tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement, and postural instability. Although Parkinson's disease can lead to death, this is typically due to complications rather than the disease itself. One of the most common complications of Parkinson's disease is pneumonia when food or liquids enter the lungs instead of the stomach. Pneumonia is often caused by aspiration when someone with Parkinson's disease fails to swallow correctly. Aspiration pneumonia is a severe complication that can lead to death. Other complications of Parkinson's disease that can lead to death include sepsis, malnutrition, and choking. Although there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or delay some of the complications that can lead to death."


A Tremor, or Shaking, in One Hand When the Hand is at Rest


Dr. Mitchell shares, "Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to control muscle movement. The primary symptom of Parkinson's disease is a tremor, or shaking, in one hand when the hand is at rest. This tremor is usually most noticeable when the affected hand is held out in front of the body, such as writing or gesturing. The tremor may also be accompanied by a loss of coordination and balance and other symptoms such as stiffness and weakness in the muscles."


Loss of Smell


"The olfactory system is located in the front of the brain and is responsible for the sense of smell, " Dr. Mitchell says. "This system sends nerve signals to the brain that allow a person to smell. The nerves in the olfactory system are different from other nerves in the brain because they regenerate regularly. This will enable people to have a keen sense of smell. However, in people with Parkinson's disease, these nerve cells break down and die. As a result, Parkinson's disease causes loss of smell. While this may seem like a minor symptom, it can be a significant problem for people with Parkinson's disease. Loss of smell can cause difficulty eating and drinking and lead to depression. In addition, loss of smell can be an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease, so it is essential to see a doctor if you experience this symptom."


Slowed Movements or Bradykinesia


Dr. Mitchell explains, "Bradykinesia, or slow movements, is one of the most common and visible symptoms of Parkinson's disease. It results from a loss of nerve cells in the region of the brain called the substantia nigra. These nerve cells produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a chemical messenger, telling muscles when to move. When dopamine levels are low, muscles do not receive this signal and can become slow or frozen. Bradykinesia often begins gradually and worsens over time. It can make simple tasks very difficult, such as getting dressed or brushing teeth. In severe cases, bradykinesia can make it impossible to walk or speak clearly. There is no cure for bradykinesia, but medications and other treatments can help to improve symptoms and improve quality of life."


Impaired Balance and Coordination


Dr. Mitchell states, "Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system. The disease is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps to regulate movement. Without enough dopamine, the nerve cells cannot send signals correctly, leading to impaired balance and coordination. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease include tremors, rigidity, slow movement, and difficulty walking. The disease progresses slowly and can eventually lead to disability. There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but there are treatments that can help to improve symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing the disease and maintaining the quality of life."


Changes in Speech or Writing, Such as a Soft Voice or Small Handwriting


Dr. Mitchell says, "Changes in speech or writing are common symptoms of Parkinson's. The condition can cause a soft voice or small handwriting as the muscles involved in speaking and writing deteriorate. In some cases, people with Parkinson's may also slur their words or have difficulty finding the right words to say. These symptoms are caused by a loss of dopamine in the brain, affecting muscle function. Parkinson's is a progressive disease, which means that the symptoms gradually worsen over time. In the early stages, the changes in speech and writing may be mild and barely noticeable. However, as the disease progresses, these symptoms can become more severe and significantly impact a person's ability to communicate. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential to see a doctor for a thorough evaluation. However, early diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease can make a big difference in the course of the disease."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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