Parkinson’s disease is caused by the degeneration of a small part of the brain called the substantia nigra. As brain cells in the substantia nigra die, the brain becomes deprived of the chemical dopamine.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, has an important part to play in our daily lives. It acts as a messenger telling a part of your brain when to move a part of your body. When the cells that make dopamine begin to die, the amount of dopamine that is generated reduces and this, in turn, reduces the signal to that part of the brain that controls movement. Reduced levels of dopamine lead to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. According to the National Parkinson Foundation of USA, 80% of dopamine-producing cells are lost even before the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear.
As dopamine continues to be lost, Parkinson’s disease often becomes increasingly disabling over time. If you suffer from Parkinson’s disease you may have trouble performing daily activities such as rising from a chair or moving across a room. As the disease progresses, some people need to use a wheelchair or may become bedridden.
What exactly causes these cells to die is something that scientists are still not sure of, although the suspicion is that environmental factors and genes could be playing a part in it.
Parkinson’s disease symptoms and signs may differ from person to person. Early signs may be mild and often go unnoticed.
Broadly, symptoms of Parkinson’s can be broken into the following categories:
The most recognized symptom of Parkinson’s disease, tremor, often starts with an occasional tremor in one finger that eventually spreads to the whole arm. The tremor may affect only one part or side of the body, especially in the early stages of the disease. Not everyone with Parkinson’s disease has tremor. One characteristic of Parkinson’s disease is a tremor of your hand when it is as rest.
Bradykinesia is one of the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Over time, a person with Parkinson’s disease may develop a stooped posture and a slow, shuffling walk. They eventually also may lose their ability to start and keep moving. This will make simple tasks difficult and time consuming. The steps one takes may become shorter and one may find it difficult to get out of a chair or car.
After a number of years, they may experience akinesia, or “freezing”, and not be able to move at all.
Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body. The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain. The muscle rigidity experienced with Parkinson’s disease often begins in the legs and neck. Rigidity affects most people. The muscles become tense and contracted, and some people may feel pain or stiffness.
A person with postural instability may have a stooped position, with head bowed and shoulders drooped. They may develop a forward or backward lean and may have falls that cause injuries. People with a backward lean have a tendency to “retropulsion,” or stepping backwards.
In Parkinson’s disease, your ability to perform unconscious movements such as blinking, smiling or swinging your arms may also be hindered and could serve as a symptom of this disease.
You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson’s disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may become flat and monotonous without your normal inflections.
If you notice sudden changes in your writing in terms of finding it difficult to write, or that your writing has started changing or become small, it may be another indication of Parkinson’s disease.