Parkinson’s disease is not fully understood by everyone, given that its emergence and manifestations may greatly differ from one individual to the other. The disease is a neurological syndrome caused by a deficiency of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. This deficiency is followed by degenerative vascular or inflammatory changes of the basal ganglia.
People with Parkinson’s syndrome display rhythmic muscular tremors, rigidity in movement and a progressive loss of muscle control. Surprisingly, not all patients have the specific tremor, at least not during the early stages of the disease.
Recently, a group of researchers has succeeded in defining and producing two different types of alpha-synuclein aggregates. Alpha-synuclein is the protein responsible for the disease, which forms aggregates within neurons and eventually kills them.
The scientists have shown that one of these two forms is much more toxic than the other and has a greater capacity to invade neurons. These results represent a remarkable advancement in the understanding of Parkinson’s disease and are the first step toward the development of targeted therapies.
The evolution of Parkinson’s syndrome
Even though its manifestations can be intimidating, life expectancy for the sufferers of Parkinson’s syndrome may be about the same as that of healthy individuals. Initial symptoms are hard to spot and intensify silently, often over a period of 20 years.
Approximately 5% -10% of cases occur before the age 50. The average age for developing Parkinson’s syndrome is 62 and the risk of illness increases if a similar case has been previously recorded in the patient’s family history. Men are 1.5 times more likely than women to manifest the syndrome.
The initial signs of Parkinson’s syndrome
In its early stages, Parkinson’s syndrome presents typical symptoms, which once recognized, can help with the early detection of the disease, which, in turn, may ensure it is treated at optimal levels. These early symptoms are:
- A slight tremor of the fingers, hands, feet or lips
- A rigid body and difficulty in walking
- Writing in small, piled, letters
- Bending forward
- A specific facial expression which is frozen, sober
Body tremor is a symptom that occurs early on in the development of the disease in 70% of cases. It initially manifests itself in the fingers and hands (when they are not being used). Yet shaking can be a symptom of other disorders, too, and therefore may not indicate the onset of Parkinson’s alone.
Another initial symptom of the disease is bradykinesia, which is the name for a slow speed in achieving broad movements.
The slow movement is a natural part of the physical changes caused by aging, but when the body movements occur very slowly or are followed by the body becoming blocked, then Parkinson’s is probably responsible. Slow movement and a lack of facial expression, two hallmarks of Parkinson’s patients, can also be caused also by bradykinesia.
Advanced signs of Parkinson’s syndrome
As the disease progresses, the change in posture becomes more obvious: the shoulders are oriented forward and the difficulty of movement degenerates into a generalized bodily imbalance. There is a notable increase in the risk of accidents caused by falling, and body rigidity is observed in muscle contractions (the muscles remain rigid and no longer relax).
The arms do not naturally swing when walking and muscle pain and cramps may occur. Other advanced symptoms may occur in patients, but not in all situations:
- Restless sleep and daytime tiredness
- Low-intensity voice and unclear speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Impaired memory, confusion or dementia
- Skin with excess sebum and dandruff
- Recurrent episodes of constipation
Apart from all these mental and physical health symptoms, episodes of anxiety, depression, and fear, usually after diagnosis, may occur.