By: Troy Frink
April is Parkinson’s disease Awareness Month! Parkinson’s has been brought to mainstream attention with famous cases such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox, but how much do you know about the disease itself?
Parkinson’s disease affects the nervous system. It affects movement gradually, usually starting with a small, barely noticeable tremor in one hand. Over the course of the disease, symptoms worsen. In the beginning stages of Parkinson’s, your face may not show expression, or your arms won’t swing as you walk. Speech may be slurred or soft.
Parkinson’s Disease has no cure, but medication and treatment can dramatically improve your symptoms. In some cases, doctors recommend surgery to regulate certain parts of the brain and improve symptoms.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease symptoms start out small, and they can be different for everyone. At first, the signs might even go unnoticed. The symptoms usually start on one side of the body and get worse on that side first. Symptoms can include:
- Tremors: Tremors (shaking) often starts in the hands or fingers.
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia): Parkinson’s disease may slow movement over time and make even the simplest of tasks difficult.
- Muscle stiffness: Muscle rigidity can occur in any body part, make movement painful, and limit range of motion.
- Changes to Speech: People with Parkinson’s disease tend to speak softly, quickly, or with a slur. They might also hesitate before talking or their speech might lack the usual inflections.
- Changes to balance and posture: The person may stand slumped over, or he or she may have balance issues.
If you have any of the above symptoms, consult your doctor immediately. Your doctor can make a proper diagnosis and also rule out any other causes for your symptoms.
Causes of Parkinson’s
The causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown. However, genetic factors and environmental triggers appear to play a role. Researchers have found specific, rare genetic mutations associated with the disease. The mutations are uncommon, but can be found in some families with many members affected by the disease. Certain toxins and environmental risk factors can play a role, too, but the risk is small.
People with Parkinson’s experience significant changes in their brains. It is unclear why these changes occur. Changes include:
- Lewy bodies: Clusters of substances called Lewy bodies are microscopic indicators of Parkinson’s disease. Lewy bodies are abnormal protein aggregates that form inside nerve cells.
- Alpha-synuclein in Lewy bodies: Scientists believe one of the proteins found in Lewy bodies, Alpha-nynuclein (a-synuclein), is the number one red flag when looking for Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers are hard at work learning about what might cause Parkinson’s disease. They are particularly focused on a-synuclein because it is found in all Lewy bodies in a form that cells cannot break down.
Several risk factors may contribute to an increased likelihood of getting Parkinson’s disease. Risk factors include:
- Age: Most people who develop the disease are 60 or older.
- Genetic factors: People with many close relatives who have Parkinson’s have an increased chance that they will also develop the disease.
- Sex: Women are much less likely to develop Parkinson’s than men are.
- Environmental factors: Prolonged exposure to pesticides and herbicides may increase your risk of Parkinson’s to a slight degree.
Because Parkinson’s causes are a mystery, scientists have not found any proven ways to prevent the disease. However, some research shows that regular exercise and caffeine use might reduce the chances of developing the disease.
Contact Us Today
If you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and want to learn about how you can get Medicare coverage, our partners at Medicare Plan Finder can help you find a plan that meets your needs and budget. Call 833-438-3676 to speak with one of their agents or send them a message today.