Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Overview

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain condition that can lead to problems moving, walking, swallowing, and even smelling. Parkinson’s disease is caused by many factors including genetics, epigenetics, and exposure to environmental toxins like heavy metals and pesticides. Common treatments for Parkinson’s disease include medications and deep brain stimulation. Lifestyle modifications like exercise and a healthy diet could improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Table of Contents

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

What are the Causes or Risk Factors of Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

What are Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease Summit

References

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain condition that causes problems with movement. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease.

One key scientific review states that the primary cause of Parkinson’s disease is the lack of dopamine in the brain. This can cause damage to the neurons in the brain and lead to cell death.

The primary neurons that die are the ones that control your movement. But neuron death occurs in other brain areas as well.

Parkinson’s disease can rob you of your independence by causing you to have difficulty speaking and walking. Non-movement related symptoms, like loss of smell, are also possible with Parkinson’s disease.

The Parkinson’s Foundation reports several startling statistics about Parkinson’s disease:

  • In the world, over 10 million people have Parkinson’s Disease with 1 million in the United States
  • As of 2022, 90,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year in the United States, an increase of 50% from 2012
  • Parkinson’s Disease costs nearly $52 billion per year in the United States alone

Although Parkinson’s disease can happen to anyone, men are 50% more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than women. Understanding the risk factors and causes of Parkinson’s disease will help you understand your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

What are the Causes or Risk Factors of Parkinson’s Disease?

According to one scientific review, the primary causes of Parkinson’s disease are:

  • Genetics
  • Epigenetics
  • Environmental Risk Factors

Role of Genetics in Parkinson’s Disease Development

Early Parkinson’s disease is more likely if you have a family history of it. However, only 10-15% early Parkinson’s disease cases can be attributed to these genetic links. Several gene mutations linked to Parkinson’s disease have been identified by a key report. These genes include:

  • LRRK2
  • PINK1
  • Parkin
  • DJ-1, VPS35
  • GBA1

Screening for mutations in these genes could help you identify if you are at risk for early Parkinson’s disease.

Role of Epigenetics and Environmental Risk Factors in Parkinson’s Disease Development

Epigenetics refers to how the environment and your behavior affect the way your genes work in your body. Environmental risk factors can be the trigger for the changes in how your genes work.

One scientific review reports that there are three key environmental factors that can lead to Parkinson’s disease:

  1. Heavy Metals: Mercury, led, manganese, and excess copper have been reported to increase death of neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
  2. Pesticides: exposure to organochlorine pesticides has been found to cause neurotoxic damage to the central nervous system
  3. Illegal Drugs: one report indicates that amphetamine, methamphetamine, or cocaine use could increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 300%.

Exposure to these neurotoxins may increase the rate of neurodegeneration to lead to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s Disease Diagnosis

Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be difficult. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are no lab tests or blood tests that can diagnose Parkinson’s.

Neuropsychological examination is the primary way that Parkinson’s is diagnosed. These examinations typically take place if symptoms of early Parkinson’s disease are appearing.

One scientific review reports that imaging (like MRI or) methods are being studied to help with diagnosis. New techniques that are being studied by clinics are “neuromelanin imaging,” NMI for short, or “quantitative susceptibility mapping,” QSM for short. These techniques are accurately diagnosing Parkinson’s in 80-98% of cases. More research is underway in the hope that these imaging techniques are effective ways to diagnose Parkinson’s disease early.

Because Parkinson’s disease is also a progressive neurological disease, early diagnosis will help people get treatment early and manage symptoms effectively. Early treatment of Parkinson’s symptoms may lead to a better quality of life and small improvements in disease progression, according to one study.

Recognizing the symptoms of early Parkinson’s disease is important to be able to manage Parkinson’s disease effectively.

What are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Although Parkinson’s disease is primarily a movement disorder, the Mayo Clinic reports people with Parkinson’s can expect both movement-related symptoms and non-movement-related symptoms. So, what are the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

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Movement-related symptoms include:

  • Tremor: this is the hallmark sign of Parkinson’s disease. A rhythmic-like shake of the hands and fingers is common at rest. Rubbing the thumb and forefinger together back and forth is a tell-tale sign
  • Chronic Fatigue: energy levels are typically low
  • Difficulty Standing and Walking: less control of your muscles causes challenges controlling your legs while walking
  • Slowing of Movement: this is also called bradykinesia. This could cause difficulty moving your legs leading to dragging or shuffling of the feet.
  • Freezing: this is a severe level of movement slowing. Occasionally, people with Parkinson’s can feel like their feet are “glued” down.
  • Poor Balance and Coordination: falls are much more likely due to poor posture and balance
  • Problems Chewing and Swallowing: muscle control of the mouth is poor during late-stage Parkinson’s, which prevents from effective chewing. Choking becomes more likely.
  • Changes in Speech: poor muscle control may cause slurring, hesitation, and more monotone like speech
  • Difficulty Writing: tremors make it difficult to write without shaking
  • Constantly Stiff Muscles

Non-movement-related symptoms include:

  • Cognitive Problems like difficulty thinking or problem-solving may occur in late-stage Parkinson’s disease
  • Pain
  • Dysregulated Blood Pressure: sudden drops in blood pressure upon standing can occur (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Sexual Dysfunction: desire to have sex and performance are usually low
  • Bladder Dysfunction: incontinence or having difficulty urinating
  • Depression: due to significant changes ability to live independently and fear of the future
  • Changes in Smell
  • Difficulty with Sleep: challenges like frequently waking up and even rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder may occur

Since Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disease, symptoms continue to appear over time. Understanding the stages of Parkinson’s disease will help you know what to expect.

The Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, a key way to understand the timeline of disease progression is to understand the 5 stages of Parkinson’s.

  • Stage 1: Symptoms of early Parkinson’s disease are becoming noticeable. Some tremors (which is rhythmic shaking of the limbs) may occur. Mild changes in facial movement, walking, and posture are common only in one side of the body at this stage.
  • Stage 2: Symptoms are more noticeable and are starting to affect both sides of the body. Muscle rigidity is more common. More changes in walking and posture occur.
  • Stage 3: Loss of balance is more common while standing or walking. Falls are much more likely. Daily activities are much harder than before. The level of disability is considered mild to moderate.
  • Stage 4: Daily activities are no longer possible to complete independently. Walking independently is barely possible, and a walker or cane is highly recommended to prevent falls. At this stage, it is unsafe for an individual to live alone.
  • Stage 5: Full-time care is needed. Walking is no longer possible, and a wheelchair is typically needed.

Currently, there are no cures for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are many things that you can do to improve symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease to live your fullest life.

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What are Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease?

Medical Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

Medications are the most common therapy for Parkinson’s disease, according to one review. The primary goal of these medications are to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain to reduce the rate of neuron death and to promote effective function of the neurons.
According to the Mayo Clinic common Parkinson’s disease medications include:

  • Carbidopa-levodopa: this chemical is converted into dopamine in the body. This can be taken by pill, inhalation, or even infusion. Common medications include Rytary, Sinemet, and Duopa.
  • Dopamine Agonists: these chemicals mimic how dopamine affects the brain. Common medications include Mirapex ER, Neupro, and Apokyn.
  • Monoamine Oxidase B (MAO B) Inhibitors: these chemicals reduce the rate at which dopamine is broken down in the brain. Common medications include Zelapar, Xadago, and Azilect.

Other forms of medical treatment are available or being studied. One key therapy is a surgery that implants a device in your brain, and this is called deep brain stimulation therapy.

Deep brain stimulation therapy is like having a “brain pacemaker.” This implant can stimulate neurons in the brain to influence the control of your movements. One report states that deep brain stimulation could increase the number of neurons to improve long term Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Lifestyle Modifications for Parkinson’s Disease

The Mayo Clinic reports that lifestyle modifications can improve quality of life with Parkinson’s disease. These modifications include:

  • Healthy Diet: A diet high in fiber, fluid intake, and omega-3 fatty acids could be beneficial. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods could limit the impacts that inflammation may have on Parkinson’s symptoms.
  • Exercise: Consulting a physical therapist to develop an exercise program could be beneficial. It would help maintain your muscle strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility. This would maintain independence, improve quality of life, and reduce mental health problems.
  • Getting Massages could help with reducing muscle tension.
  • Meditation could relieve pain and decrease stress levels.

Can You Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

A study from 2022 reported that aerobic exercise reduces the chances of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Avoiding environmental toxins like heavy metals, pesticides, or illegal drugs also reduces the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s Disease Summit

Knowing how to improve your life with Parkinson’s disease may be difficult. A great place to start would be a summit that provides you with expert opinions about how to treat Parkinson’s disease. The Parkinson’s Solutions Summit provides you with free access to over 40 expert talks from November 5-11, 2024.

Parkinson’s disease experts, Kenneth Sharlin, MD, and Barbara Pickut, MD, MPH, are the hosts of this summit. Dr. Sharlin is a neurologist with over 30 years of experience and provides one of Missouri’s most comprehensive Parkinson’s care programs. Dr. Barbara Pickut is a Neurologist and Movement Disorders specialist, and an expert in Parkinson’s disease and mindful meditation for People with Parkinson’s and their Care Partners.

Don’t miss out on their exciting summit. Visit here to register now.

Summary

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. It can steal your independence by limiting your movements and ability to speak. The death of neurons in the brain due to a lack of dopamine is the primary cause of Parkinson’s disease. Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors lead to this. Treatments are available for Parkinson’s, and these include medications, deep brain stimulation, and other lifestyle modifications.

You can learn more about how to improve your life with Parkinson’s by attending the Parkinson’s Solutions Summit.

References

Emamzadeh, F. N., & Surguchov, A. (2018). Parkinson’s Disease: Biomarkers, Treatment, and Risk Factors. Frontiers in neuroscience, 12, 612. Read it here.

Zeng, X. S., Geng, W. S., Jia, J. J., Chen, L., & Zhang, P. P. (2018). Cellular and Molecular Basis of Neurodegeneration in Parkinson Disease. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 10, 109. Read it here.

Parkinson’s Foundation. (2019) “Statistics.” Parkinson’s Foundation. Read it here.

Ball, N., Teo, W. P., Chandra, S., & Chapman, J. (2019). Parkinson’s Disease and the Environment. Frontiers in neurology, 10, 218. Read it here.

Kanthasamy, A. G., Kitazawa, M., Kanthasamy, A., & Anantharam, V. (2005). Dieldrin-induced neurotoxicity: relevance to Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis. Neurotoxicology, 26(4), 701–719. Read it here.

Curtin, K., Fleckenstein, A. E., Robison, R. J., Crookston, M. J., Smith, K. R., & Hanson, G. R. (2015). Methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse and risk of Parkinson’s disease in Utah: a population-based assessment. Drug and alcohol dependence, 146, 30–38. Read it here.

National Institute on Aging. (2022). Parkinson’s disease: Causes, symptoms, and treatments. National Institute on Aging. Read it here.

Tolosa, E., Garrido, A., Scholz, S. W., & Poewe, W. (2021). Challenges in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. The Lancet. Neurology, 20(5), 385–397. Read it here.

van den Heuvel, L., Evers, L. J. W., Meinders, M. J., Post, B., Stiggelbout, A. M., Heskes, T. M., Bloem, B. R., & Krijthe, J. H. (2021). Estimating the Effect of Early Treatment Initiation in Parkinson’s Disease Using Observational Data. Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society, 36(2), 407–414. Read it here.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022). Parkinson’s disease. Mayo Clinic. Read it here.

Yu, J. (2022). Stages of Parkinson’s | Parkinson’s Foundation. Read it here.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Parkinson’s disease – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic. Read it here.

Janssen Daalen, J. M., Schootemeijer, S., Richard, E., Darweesh, S. K. L., & Bloem, B. R. (2022). Lifestyle Interventions for the Prevention of Parkinson Disease: A Recipe for Action. Neurology, 99(7 Suppl 1), 42–51. Read it here.

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2 Comments
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Joe Sticca
Joe Sticca
6 months ago

I am more knowledgable of the condition and shared this with my Aunt as my uncle has late stage Parkinson’s Disease.

Bret Gregory
Bret Gregory
6 months ago

It’s eye-opening to see how complex Parkinson’s disease is, affecting both movement and non-movement functions. The link between genetics, environment, and lifestyle is fascinating, yet sobering. It’s encouraging, though, that there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms. The Parkinson’s Solutions Summit seems like a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more or find support. Ken Sharlin, MD is a Parkinson’s specialist and host of the Drtalks Parkinson’s summit.

Daniel Chantigian
Daniel Chantigian, MS
Learn more

When it comes to complex scientific or medical topics, Daniel can successfully communicate with any audience via writing, social media, lecturing, and one-on-one discussions. Over the past decade, he developed these skills as a researcher at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, as a lecturer at the University...

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Join the discussion

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2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe Sticca
Joe Sticca
6 months ago

I am more knowledgable of the condition and shared this with my Aunt as my uncle has late stage Parkinson’s Disease.

Bret Gregory
Bret Gregory
6 months ago

It’s eye-opening to see how complex Parkinson’s disease is, affecting both movement and non-movement functions. The link between genetics, environment, and lifestyle is fascinating, yet sobering. It’s encouraging, though, that there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms. The Parkinson’s Solutions Summit seems like a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more or find support. Ken Sharlin, MD is a Parkinson’s specialist and host of the Drtalks Parkinson’s summit.

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