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Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that has no known effective treatment. Parkinson’s is thought to be caused by the gradual loss of the dopamine-producing cells that regulate smooth movement in the brain, resulting in the onset of the characteristic symptoms of Parkinson’s. Even though it will be a long struggle if we are to beat Parkinson’s then we must understand Parkinson’s.
While they can vary between individuals and do not all occur in each patient. These symptoms include:
Tremors – shaking and trembling in limbs, head, face, and fingers. These often dissipate when the individual is busy with a task. Stress and tiredness exacerbate these symptoms
Bradykinesia – slowness of voluntary movement and difficulty starting and completing movements.
Rigid Limbs and Body – leading to muscle pain, tiredness and other motor symptoms. Eating and writing can be very difficult
Impaired Reflexes – Often leading to balance difficulties.
The Parkinson’s Society describes five stages to the condition:
Parkinsonian Gait – a shuffling walk that is distinctive to this condition. The difficulty with navigating, initiating walking and maintaining a stride.
Emotional Changes – a Parkinson’s sufferer can suffer from a number of mental health conditions due to the ongoing damage of the brain. Depression, anxiety, memory loss, confusion, diminished and monotone speech, loss of urinary control, loss of sense of smell, constipation, male erectile problems and dementia, alongside difficulty with swallowing. These are all “secondary” symptoms of Parkinson’s.
The Parkinson’s Foundation gives a series of 5 stages in which Parkinson’s can be categorized.
Symptoms that do not interfere with normal daily life. Usually confined to one side of the body.
Worsening of symptoms, leading to problems with walking. Symptoms are present on both sides of the body.
Further worsening of symptoms with impaired balance and slowed movements.
Symptoms are so severe the patient needs care, usually live-in.
Unable to undertake any normal activities such as walking and needs 24/7 care from a caregiver. Possible onset of delusions and hallucinations.
There is a small familial link with Parkinson’s, meaning someone with a relative with the condition is slightly more likely to develop it themselves, and a number of genes that are related Parkinson’s have been identified. The mechanism by which they cause or contribute to the condition is not understood.
The majority of Parkinson’s sufferers, however, have no known cause for their condition. The condition itself is characterised by the slow loss of dopamine-producing motor-controlling neurons in the brain.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in the brain as it is used as a communication mediator between billions of neurons. It appears that Parkinson’s might be an immune system condition that is the result of an attack on these cells by the body’s own immune system misdiagnosing them as a threat. This raises the possibility of immune therapy, an emerging field in biology.
Men are up to two times as likely to suffer from Parkinson’s, as are those who have been exposed to pesticides, herbicides or have suffered a severe head trauma.
There is currently no way of diagnosing Parkinson’s directly until autopsy, so a physician will use the symptoms present in the patient to diagnose. The early symptoms are common with a number of neurological conditions, each with different treatments, so a constant reevaluation during the early stages of the disease is essential.
Currently, there is no cure, only alleviation of symptoms. All effective treatments involve increasing the quantities of dopamine in a person’s brain. This delays the onset of symptoms but can have severe side effects, as well reducing in effectiveness as the disease progresses.
Exercise, improved diet, physiotherapy and speech therapy all help.
Surgery can be an alternative for advanced patients, with some recent successes with Deep Brain Stimulation therapy, in which a current is applied directly to the dying cells. This relieves symptoms but does not halt the progression of the disease.
Pioneering stem cell treatments are showing early signs of success. By inducing them to replace the missing cells in the patient’s brain, they can then take over the correct functioning of the neurons. A future potential cure.
Studies are showing that CBD is proving to be an all-natural treatment for Parkinson’s. A lot of its advantages can be attributed to its calming properties that can help regulate sleep and a patient’s mood. Cannabis in its untreated form may also prove to be useful.