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9 Facts About Parkinson’s Disease Everyone Should Know
When you think of Parkinson’s disease you might remember notable celebrities who have suffered from it. Individuals such as Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, and Linda Ronstadt are notable Parkinson’s sufferers. Maybe when you think of the disease, you reflect on someone you know. A loved one, such as a grandparent or friend. Or, if you are like some people when you think of Parkinson’s, you are left with more questions than answers about the disease itself. Let’s take a look at nine key facts to gain a deeper understanding of the disease.
1. It is more common than you might think
Although Parkinson’s disease does not always get a lot of media coverage, it affects many individuals. In fact, it is estimated that worldwide there are more than 10 million people living with Parkinson’s disease. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with it each year.
2. Symptoms are not always the same
Tremors, or involuntary shaking, are probably the most recognized symptom; however, Parkinson’s disease isn’t just marked by tremors and other outward symptoms. In fact, there are many symptoms associated with it, and they may vary between individuals. While some may have many symptoms, others show very few. Let’s review a few of the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- Tremors: Slight shaking in the finger, hand, or chin is a very common sign of Parkinson’s disease.
- Loss of the sense of smell: The inability to smell certain scents may be one of the earliest symptoms.
- Small Handwriting: Some individuals have always written in tiny print. However, if an individual begins to write much smaller than previously, this could be a sign of Parkinson’s disease. Specific changes might include words that are crowded together or letters which are written smaller than usual.
- Trouble Sleeping: Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time, but a sign of Parkinson’s disease includes involuntary movement during sleep. For example, moving around quickly or jerking of the limbs might be one of the signs.
- Stiffness: It is common to feel stiff after sitting for long periods of time or when sore from exercise. However, this type of stiffness typically gets better after moving around a bit. With Parkinson’s, an individual may have stiffness in their limbs or find it more difficult to get around than it was previously.
- Dizziness or Fainting: One symptom may be dizziness or fainting upon standing. This can be a sign of low blood pressure, which in turn can be related to Parkinson’s.
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3. Diagnosing it is not easy. Early detection may improve future treatments
One incredibly frustrating aspect of Parkinson’s disease is how difficult it is to diagnose. In fact, there is no universal way to diagnose it. Instead there is a variety of exams and diagnostic tests which physicians use. For this reason, Parkinson’s can be misdiagnosed. However, for a neurologist to make a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, two of these four symptoms must be present:
- Resting tremor
- Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
- Stiffness in the arms, legs, or trunk
- Postural Instability- Trouble with balance
4. The cause is still unknown
Another frustrating thing about Parkinson’s is that the cause of it is still unknown. While scientists do know some of factors which can increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, there is not one specific cause. In many cases, a person may not have any of the known risk factors. Some cases are thought to be genetic (about 10-15% of cases), but the other cases are thought to be unrelated to genetic factors (85-90% of cases).
There are some environmental risk factors that can increase a person’s odds of developing the disease, for example, traumatic brain injury. In addition, exposure to certain environmental contaminants, such as herbicide, heavy metals, and certain pesticides may also influence the risk.
5. It is not a disease of old age
A common misconception is that Parkinson’s disease is only diagnosed in older adults. About 1% of individuals over the age of 60 have Parkinson’s disease, and it is most commonly diagnosed in individuals in this group. However, it may also affect younger individuals. In fact, about 4% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are younger than 50.
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6. Men are affected more often than women
Although Parkinson’s disease affects individuals of both genders, it affects men more often. Men are approximately 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with it than their female counterparts.
7. Mental Health
While the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s are important, it is also vital to consider the mental and emotional health of individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Depression affects over half of individuals with Parkinson’s, and anxiety affects nearly half. To complicate matters, stress can exacerbate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Fortunately, telling people about the influence of stress and talking about emotional aspects of the disease has been shown to ease some of the symptoms.
8. Treatment should be tailored to your symptoms and your preferences
For individuals with Parkinson’s disease, it is important that their treatment is tailored to their specific needs. Just as symptoms of the disease vary by person, so should treatment plans. To be the most effective, patients should work with their care team to have true patient centered care.
9. Clinical trials are promising
Although the idea may be intimidating or even a bit daunting, clinical trials can be a promising way to receive a high standard of care from leading healthcare professionals and access new types of treatments. Besides that, clinical trials are the best method we have at eventually finding an effective treatment, cure, or even prevention of Parkinson’s disease. And while clinical trials do come with risks, participating in a one is at the very least worth considering.
While these 10 facts describe important characteristics of Parkinson’s disease, you may or may not have known there is even more information out there. And what is important is that through science, we are learning more about this disease every day. The more we learn and the more we educate others, the closer we are to making Parkinson’s disease a thing of the past.