Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological movement disorder that affects approximately 60,000 Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide. Patients usually begin developing the disease around age 60.
While the actual number of African Americans with PD is unknown, it is clear that there are racial disparities in the access to health care, diagnosis and treatment of PD. The lack of clear knowledge on the PD prevalence among Black people compared to whites further calls for more research in this field.
In Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain that control movement, gradually break down or die. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Directly inheriting the disease is fairly rare. Only about 10 to 15 percent of all cases are thought to be genetic forms of the disease.
Parkinson’s disease can be easily misdiagnosed, and no two people will experience the same symptoms. So do see a doctor if you are noticing reoccurring changes:
- Writing changes–Have you noticed that the way in which you write words on a page has changed? Is your writing smaller, and are the words all crunched together? A change in handwriting may be a sign of PD called micrographia.
- Tremor, especially in finger, hand, or foot–Are you noticing a slight shaking or tremor in your finger, thumb, hand or chin? A tremor while at rest is a common early sign of PD.
- Loss of smell–If your sense of smell is off, discuss this change with your doctor. Even if you experience a stuffy nose with a cold, your sense of smell should return to normal once you are all better.
- Sudden movements while you sleep–Do you thrash around in bed when you are in deep sleep? Sudden movements while sleeping can also be a sign of PD.
- Body stiffness and slow walking–Experiencing stiffness in your arms, legs, torso? An early sign of PD can be shoulder or hip stiffness or pain. Perhaps you are not swinging your arms as you used to when walking.
- Constipation–If you are straining every day to move your bowels and it is not being caused by other factors like meds or diet, then speak to your doctor about what you are experiencing.
- Voice changes–Do you suddenly sound hoarse? Did your normal speaking voice go down a few octaves?
- Rigid facial expression or masking–Are folks asking why you always look mad, very serious, or depressed, even if you’re in a great mood? This is called facial masking and is a symptom of PD.
- Stooped posture–Are you stooping, leaning or slouching when you should be standing tall? Not being able to maintain a straight posture is also a sign of PD.
- Psychosis–PD’s psychological changes can vary from severe confusion (disordered thinking) to seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations). PD’s delusions can include something you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel that is not actually there; believing things that are not true. Have a conversation with your doctor to discuss any psychological changes you might be experiencing.
By far, the most common known genetic cause of Parkinson’s disease is the G2019S mutation, which occurs in a gene called LRRK2. While the average person has a 1-2% chance of developing Parkinson’s, the risk for someone with the G2019S mutation is much higher and increases with age.
There is no specific test exists to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Your doctor trained in nervous system conditions (neurologist) will diagnose Parkinson’s disease based on your medical history, a review of your signs and symptoms, and a neurological and physical examination.
Is Parkinson’s curable?
To date, there is no known way to prevent Parkinson’s disease, and there is no cure. There are several treatment options to slow the progression of the disease that can include medications and surgery. The best lifestyle modification you can make is increasing the amount of physical activity you’re doing. This includes cardio, as well as some strength-training exercises and stretching. A minimum of 2.5 hours a week of exercise a week is recommended. Not only will you experience relief, but it’s possible that the physical activity may slow your disease progression. PD patients have engaged in weight training, dance, yoga, tai chi, and even Pilates to better manage their PD symptoms. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is also extremely beneficial in managing the disease.
Those who have been diagnosed with PD should seek out a care management team that consists of a neurologist, followed by a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, or and nutritionist.
The Parkinson’s Foundation leads the development of new treatments through its Centers of Excellence network, comprised of 42 international leading medical centers, staffed by renowned PD specialists. These centers deliver care to more than 100,000 people living with Parkinson’s. Participating centers also play a key role in the Foundation’s Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson’s ever conducted.
You know your body best, so if something doesn’t feel right, discuss any changes that are happening with your doctor!