Even though it has been around for a century, Parkinson’s is a mysterious disease. Let us help clear your misconceptions about this lifelong condition.
Affecting one in 100 people over 65-years of age, millions of people across the globe have dealt with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, and are now trying to work through the daily challenges that this condition brings. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that is progressive and incurable. In the past, only the impact of Parkinson’s on motor functioning received attention. Today, much has changed in the field of Parkinson’s study, and the emotional and mental health impact of Parkinson’s is being given its due too. Though our understanding of Parkinson’s has improved over the last couple of decades, there are still many myths about Parkinson’s that are proliferating for want of better awareness and accurate information. Here are a few things that you probably did not know or misunderstand about Parkinson’s disease.
Diagnosis is anything but easy when it comes to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, there is still no single diagnostic tool or technique that can be used to definitively diagnose this condition. Parkinson’s has always been and still is a disease that is clinically diagnosed. In layman’s terms, this means that a Parkinson’s diagnosis is based on the symptoms you report and the observations your physician makes during your clinical examination. The only way to know whether or not a person had Parkinson’s for sure is by examining the brain tissue after autopsy. The lack of a definitive diagnostic tool makes early diagnosis that much more difficult.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease only begin to manifest themselves when the levels of dopamine in the body are greatly reduced, and not being replenished. This process does not happen overnight. The cells that produce the dopamine chemical, which is responsible for normal movement, die slowly over the period of years. The symptoms of Parkinson’s are only experienced when approximately 60 to 80 percent of these cells are dead. Unfortunately, there is no proven way of regenerating these cells, and reversing a Parkinson’s diagnosis. So even if you have just received your Parkinson’s diagnosis, the disease is most likely to have begun years ago.
There is a general misconception that only those who have first degree relatives with Parkinson’s are at a danger of developing the condition. However, this is not true. In fact, statistics show that only a mere 14 percent of patients affected with Parkinson’s have first degree relatives who have the disease. The majority of the cases are classified as sporadic, which means there is no familial history, and no definitive cause for developing Parkinson’s.
Unfortunately, we do not, at least, not yet. Medical science does know a few things. For example, we do know that a lack of the brain messenger chemical dopamine causes some of the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. We also know that the dopamine-producing cells die in the part of the brain called substantia nigra. However, we do not know why these cells die, or what causes the other symptoms of Parkinson’s that are not connected to dopamine. The real cause of Parkinson’s disease remains shrouded in mystery.
While a majority of Parkinson’s cases are reported in people above the age of 60 years, this condition affects the young too. In fact, 5-10 percent of cases are diagnosed in people younger than 40 years, and 20 percent in people under 50 years. Of late, celebrity cases like that of Michael J. Fox and former NBA player Brian Grant are testaments to the fact that you can get a Parkinson’s diagnosis at any age.
This is one of the myths that has been prevalent for a very long time. Parkinson’s disease was once categorized as primarily a movement disorder with symptoms such as tremors, slowness, lack of balance, and stiffness. However, the truth is that this neurodegenerative disorder has many far-reaching symptoms that are pervasive in all areas of the body system. Parkinson’s causes a wide array of symptoms such as constipation, sexual dysfunction, incontinence, visual changes, sleep disorders, mental conditions such as depression and anxiety, skin changes, and more. These non-motor symptoms also serve to severely hamper the patient’s quality of life, often much more than the motor symptoms. Even worse is the fact that while we have a better idea of how to treat the motor symptoms, these non-motor symptoms do not respond well to any treatment method currently being used.
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