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Parkinson’s 101

Shaking hands are most often associated with this progressive nervous system disorder, although only about two third of Parkinson’s sufferers develop noticeable tremor in the hand, and a series of symptoms may indicate other degenerative diseases. Here’s what you need to know about Parkinson’s disease.

The root cause of the disease is the gradual loss of certain nerve cells that produce chemical messengers in the brain. Dropping levels of these messengers disrupt the control of movement. Most patients are surprised when diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease because the usual symptoms – hand tremor, stiff muscles, slow movement, and loss of balance in a later stage – may not manifest at the same time. On the other hand (no pun intended), hand tremor is not necessarily the tell-tale sign of Parkinson’s, and patients who are convinced to have it are often relieved to find out that some other condition makes their hands shake, not the dreaded Parkinson’s disease. So how can one be sure? It takes no more than a few minutes: a short manual examination by an expert neurologist. If in doubt, the specialist may ask for a cranial CT or MRI test to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.

Being a progressively debilitating disorder, Parkinson’s disease has different stages, depending on the onset and severity of the symptoms and the loss of certain functions. Typically the early symptoms are localised to one side of the body, and remain more expressed on that side later on as well. When symptoms affect both sides the patient becomes more incapacitated but they could still care for themselves at home. As the disease progresses, however, their movement is gradually compromised, it is increasingly difficult to keep their balance, and they often fall. Even simple daily chores become a real challenge. The last stages of Parkinson’s disease bring complete physical deterioration, although contrary to common misbelief mental abilities could remain intact for a long time.

What to do? 

Doctor’s Order - Dr. Sándor Ilniczky, neurologist

We don’t exactly know what causes Parkinson’s disease, so there is no cure to stop its progress, only symptomatic treatment. Fortunately though, modern medication is able to control the disease and slow down the physical decline to such an extent that in some cases the patient can live with Parkinson’s even for decades and no one can tell if they are affected. When medication is no longer sufficient a surgical procedure is still an option. Pacemaker electrodes are implanted into the brain, stimulating compromised areas that control movement. Implants can possibly induce a dramatic improvement, however, not all patients are operable as they need to meet a number of criteria to be eligible for surgery. Other than medication, regular exercise is crucial in the effective treatment of the disease. There are gymnastic exercises specifically recommended to Parkinson’s patients.