According to the National Institute on Aging, Parkinson’s disease, also known as PD, is a neurodegenerative disorder (affects nerve cells) that can be found in approximately 1% of the population over the age of 60.
To put that in perspective, in the city of Boston, which has a population around 700,000 people, 14% of which are over the age of 60, about 1,000 people with Parkinson’s might be found in the population.
Parkinson’s disease affects nerve cells in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia and also the substantia nigra. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system.
Although the exact causes of Parkinson’s remain somewhat of a mystery, we can point to a few factors that may play a role.
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease and Risk Factors
One of the major difficulties with Parkinson’s disease is that it has a wide variety of potential causes, many of which are poorly understood. This is partially due to the fact that Parkinson’s is not exactly a single, easily classifiable disease.
What that means is that no two patients will experience the exact same symptoms. Parkinson’s is more like a spectrum of diseases that all have similar, but not always the same, symptoms.
That being said, there has been plenty of study on Parkinson’s. Studies have found that there appears to be a genetic factor to the disease. Though it only seems to apply to a small percentage of those who have Parkinson’s disease, it’s possible that Parkinson’s runs in families
To put it simply, studies have found that somewhere between 10% and 15% of those suffering from PD appear to have a genetic cause behind their disease. What researchers are finding is that the genetic component includes a variety of genetic mutations, some of which a person may be born with, and some of which may be a result of exposure to toxins or chemicals.
Another potential cause of Parkinson’s disease is related to environmental factors. It’s believed that head injuries and exposure to toxins are some of the leading causes of PD. That’s where things get tricky—it’s likely that the genetic component of Parkinson’s is affected by exposure to certain toxins and chemicals. It’s possible that these substances actually change genes to the point that Parkinson’s begins to develop.
These substances include:
- Certain pesticides/herbicides
- Some metals
- Some solvents
Other risk factors simply come down to age and gender. If you’re over the age of 60, you are at risk of developing Parkinson’s, especially if you’re male.
Possibly as a result of some of these causes, the brains of Parkinson’s patients have been found to have Lewy bodies, a poorly-understood marker of Parkinson’s that may directly contribute to the worsening of the disease or may only be a result of the progression of the disease. A protein called alpha-synuclein is found in these bodies and plays a role in the development of the disease, though exactly what it does is poorly understood.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
There are a wide variety of potential symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms include:
- Excessive tiredness (fatigue)
- Tremors (usually this occurs in the hands, but you can find that tremors may appear in other parts of your body)
- Rigid muscles (all the muscles of your body may be affected in this way. This can include rigid face muscles that no longer show expressions of emotions, rigid speech-related muscles that cause your speech to become slurred or soft, or rigid leg/arm muscles that affect how you walk, causing you to shuffle or to not swing your arms as you walk)
- Low blood pressure
- Sleep issues
- Memory problems
- Behavioral issues
- Loss of sense of smell
What is most common is how your muscles are affected. You may find that you have difficulty with common tasks, like writing, or you may experience the slowing of movement (this is known as bradykinesia, a movement disorder).
What You Can Do
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are a variety of treatments available that can help alleviate symptoms.
The most common medication for Parkinson’s disease is Levodopa, which can be administered in a variety of forms.
Other medications include:
- Dopamine agonists
- MOA-B inhibitors
- COMT inhibitors
Other treatments, like deep brain stimulation, may help with symptoms when medication isn’t effective.
Lifestyle changes, like exercise and diet changes, may also be recommended.
Learn More About Clinical Studies in Boston for Parkinson’s Disease
Do you have Parkinson’s disease? We are conducting clinical trials on potential treatment options.