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Understanding Parkinson's Disease

Everyone who grew up in the 80s and the 90s knows Michael J. Fox, Marty Mc Fly, from the Back to the Future series. A well known fact about Michael J. Fox is that he suffers from Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder.

Author: Jeff Warner
Date: May 4, 2011 - 6:55:47 AM

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Everyone who grew up in the 80s and the 90s knows Michael J. Fox, Marty Mc Fly, from the Back to the Future series. A well known fact about Michael J. Fox is that he suffers from Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder.

Its cause is as yet unknown, and though it is not curable yet, it can be managed through prescription medication. Patients with Parkinson's disease require constant care as the disease progresses. It is important, for both the patient and the care-giver, to understand the various signs and symptoms to understand the progression of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
John Parkinson, the English physician who defined Parkinson's disease nearly two centuries ago, called it the 'Shaking Palsy' owing to the fact that the most common symptom of PD was tremors in one side of the body. Over the years, several other symptoms have been identified. The most common and hallmark symptoms of PD, the Primary Motor Symptoms, are:

Resting Tremor: This is the most well know symptom of PD. A resting tremor is a muscle tremor that happens when the muscles are in a relaxed state, that is, non moving state. This usually manifests at the onset of PD, usually one side of the body, and spreads to the other side of the body as the disease progresses.

Bradykinesia (Slow Movement): Bradykinesia means slowness in movements; however it doesn't mean that the slowness exists in the initiation of the movement, but in execution. It results in an inability to perform even the simplest of daily activities. Not only does the patient experience inability to initiate and execute movements, but an inability to stop ongoing movements. It may affect the facial muscles resulting in a "Mask Like" appearance.

Rigidity: Increased muscle tone, or Rigidity is another symptom of PD that might manifest in the early stages. When muscles move, they stretch, and relax. Due to rigidity, the muscles do not go back to the relaxed state, and remain stiff or stretched, often resulting in a lowered range of movement. The patient might experience pain and/or cramping due to Rigidity.

Postural Instability: Postural instability or impaired balance and co-ordination are experienced by many patients. Due to PD some people are not able to stand properly and stably. They also experience an adverse effect on the balance and co-ordination of their bodies. This combined with Rigidity and Bradykinesia, increases the chance of falling.

Sometimes it affects their speech and swallowing. Periods of "freezing" are common, where the person feels like s/he is 'stuck' to the ground, therefore making it difficult for him/her to walk.

Most patients experience one or more the above mentioned symptoms at the onset of the disease. Apart from these there are some Secondary Motor Symptoms that are not experienced by all patients:

  • A tendency to lean forward or Stooped Posture

  • Dystonia: abnormal movements caused by sustained muscle contractions.

  • Fatigue

  • Impaired fine motor dexterity

  • Impairment in the Gross motor coordination

  • Poverty of movement

  • Akathisia

  • Micrographia: cramped handwriting

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Drooling

Some non motor symptoms, like pain, dementia or confusion, constipation, depression, anxiety, sleep and skin problems and compulsive behavior have also been associated with PD. However, it's not essential that these symptoms manifest in every patient.

Parkinson's disease is not curable, but it is very manageable with the proper treatment and care. Patients in the advanced stages often require full time care by a qualified professional.

View all articles by Jeff Warner

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