Parkinson's disease is an illness that affects the part of your brain that controls how you move your body. It can come on so slowly that you don't even notice it at first. But over time, what starts as a little shakiness in your hand can have an impact on how you walk, talk, sleep, and think.
You're more likely to get it when you're 60 and older. It's also possible for it to start when you're younger, but that doesn't happen nearly as often.
There's no cure for Parkinson's disease, but you can get treatment and support to help manage the symptoms.
Here are some early signs of Parkinson's disease:
- Movement: There may be a tremor in the hands.
- Coordination: A reduced sense of coordination and balance can cause people to drop items they are holding. They may be more likely to fall.
- Gait: The person's posture may change, so that they lean forward slightly, as if they were hurrying. They may also develop a shuffling gait.
- Facial expression: This can become fixed, due to changes in the nerves that control facial muscles.
- Voice: There may be a tremor in the voice, or the person may speak more softly than before.
- Handwriting: This may become more cramped and smaller.
- Sense of smell: A loss of sense of smell can be an early sign.
- Sleep problems: These are a feature of Parkinson's, and they may be an early sign. Restless legs may contribute to this.
Causes and risk factors
Low dopamine levels: Scientists have linked low or falling levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, with Parkinson's disease. This happens when cells that produce dopamine die in the brain.
Low norepinephrine levels: Norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter, is important for controlling many automatic body functions, such as the circulation of the blood.
Lewy bodies: A person with Parkinson's disease may have clumps of protein in their brain known as Lewy bodies. Lewy body dementia is a different condition, but it has links with Parkinson's disease.
Genetic factors: Sometimes, Parkinson's disease appears to run in families, but it is not always hereditary. Researchers are trying to identify specific genetic factors that may lead to Parkinson's disease, but it appears that not one but a number of factors are responsible.
Autoimmune factors: Scientists reported in JAMA in 2017 that they had found evidence of a possible genetic link between Parkinson's disease and autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It is not possible to prevent Parkinson's disease, but research has shown that some lifelong habits may help to reduce the risk.
- Turmeric: This spice contains curcumin, an antioxidant ingredient. It may help to prevent the clumping of a protein involved in Parkinson's disease, at least one laboratory study has found.
- Flavonoids: Consuming another type of antioxidant — flavonoids — may lower the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to research. Flavonoids are present in berries, apples, some vegetables, tea, and red grapes.
- Avoiding reheated cooking oils: Scientists have linked toxic chemicals, known as aldehydes, to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, and some cancers.
Heating certain oils — such as sunflower oil — to a certain temperature, and then using them again can cause aldehydes to occur in those oils.
- Avoiding toxins: Exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and other toxins may increase the risk of neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease. People should take precautions when using these types of product, for example, by using protective clothing.
Parkinson's disease is a lifelong condition that involves neurological changes in the body. These changes can make it harder for a person to function in daily life. However, medications and other types of therapy are available for treating Parkinson's disease and reducing the symptoms.
Current treatment can relieve symptoms, but scientists hope that gene therapy or stem cell therapy will one day be able to do more than this, and restore function that the person has already lost.