What is Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s is a progressive condition that becomes worse over time and causes problems to parts of the brain.
Around 145,000 people in the UK currently live with Parkinson’s, and it can affect 1 in every 350 adults.
Parkinson’s can develop when nerve cells that create dopamine in particular parts of the brain stop working correctly and begin to die. Dopamine is responsible for sending messages to help control movement, leading to issues with motor skills.
It is very rare that Parkinson’s can be hereditary and passed down to children. Some evidence has linked Parkinson’s to environment factors, such as viruses and bacteria, toxic chemicals and heavy chemicals that are in the air around us, which may cause dopamine neurones to die.
This is a term that covers several conditions including Parkinson’s and other conditions with similar symptoms.
Idopathic Parkinson’s – this is Parkinson’s that has an unknown cause, with common symptoms being a tremor, rigidity in the muscles and slow movement.
Vascular Parkinsonism – affect people with restricted supply of blood to the brain. This affects memory, sleep, mood and movement and is sometimes developed by people who have suffered a mild stroke.
Drug-Induced Parkinsonism – some neuroleptic drugs, such as those treated for schizophrenia or psychotic disorders, block the action of dopamine in the brain. This only affects a small number of people with most recovering within months of stopping the drug that causes it.
Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) – causes stiffness and slowness in movement in the early stages, and in some cases, some can develop unsteadiness, dizziness, fall and bladder problems which is uncommon in early Parkinson’s.
Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) – affects eye movement, balance, mobility, swallowing and speech.
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus – affects the lower half of the body, causing problems with walking, urinary incontinence and memory.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s?
As Parkinson’s is caused by dopamine no longer helping with body control and movement, motor skills which are mainly affected.
There are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s:
Tremor – uncomfortable movement and shaking, usually in the hands, head, legs, body or voice. It can appear 2 ways; resting tremor (when the body is still and relaxed) or action tremor (when someone is doing something such as holding an item or trying to drink). It some cases, it starts in the hands before spreading into the rest of the arm.
Slowness of movement – also known as ‘bradykinesia’, this can reduce walking to short, shuffling steps. Someone can find it takes longer to do things and complete actions and may lack co-ordination.
Rigidly or stiff muscles – muscles become more tense and stiff, unable to stretch and flex, along with suffering from cramps or pain in the muscles. Many people may struggle to get out of a chair or turn over in bed because their body stiffens. It can also affect the muscles in the face, leading to a fixed ‘mask like’ expression.
Other motor symptoms can include falling and loss of balance, as well as freezing to the spot when a normal sequence of action has been interrupted. Parkinson’s can also affect non-motor skills, causing fatigue, low blood pressure, bladder and bowl problems, sweating, sleep problems, speech and communication issues, mental health and memory problems.
If you think you or a loved one are showing the signs of Parkinson’s, it’s important to visit a GP. They will provide advice and refer you to a specialist for diagnosis. There is currently no definitive test for Parkinson’s, but a specialist will conduct a number of examinations to look for common signs. To find out more about the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, please click here.
More information about Parkinson’s and the different symptoms can be found on the Parkinson’s UK website. Please click here to find more information to help raise your own awareness and support those in your local community.