Parkinson’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system, specifically the nerve cells that control movement. It is characterised by a gradual loss of dopamine-producing neurons in a region of the brain called black matter.
It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s disease.
The symptoms of the disease, and the most recognised ones, are motor symptoms: tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia or slowness in movements, gait alteration, and postural reflexes.
There may also be changes in the voice, facial expression, and handwriting. As the disease progresses, the symptoms can worsen, and other problems may appear, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Doctor Erika Torres, head of the Advanced Neuroscience Unit at Quirónsalud Torrevieja and Alicante, explains what Parkinson’s disease symptoms consist of, the tests for its detection, and which risk factors are modifiable.
Frequent Age of Parkinson’s
The disease usually appears in the sixth decade of life, and the risk of it developing increases with age, however, it is not uncommon to be diagnosed before 50 or 40 years of age.
Parkinson’s Symptoms in Adult Patients
Motor symptoms are an essential part of the diagnostic criteria and the key symptoms of the disease.
Motor symptoms include a tremor, although not all patients with tremors have Parkinson’s disease, and not all Parkinson’s disease patients present tremors.
There are patients that, on the other hand, show movement defects where rigidity and slowness in movements predominate, associated with diminished facial expression and gait instability.
There can also be alterations in posture and postural reflexes, responsible for the falls suffered by these patients, generally in more advanced stages of the disease.
As for the non-motor symptoms, these are related to: gastrointestinal alterations (constipation), cognitive alterations, sleep alterations, dysautonomic alterations, language alterations, pain, and emotional alterations such as anxiety and despondency.
Tests for Parkinson’s Diagnosis
The diagnosis of the disease is clinical, and is mainly based on the interview with the patient and a physical examination by a neurologist with experience in the movement disorder field. However, there are also complementary examinations that can help reach a diagnosis in questionable or somewhat more complex cases. For this, a general blood test is performed, along with a cranial CT scan or a cerebral MRI, which help rule out systemic diseases and structural cerebral pathologies that may produce similar symptoms.
“We must consider that not all patients present all symptoms or evolve in the same way, since this disease has a significant variability in its expression,” explains Dr Torres.
Parkinson’s, a Hereditary Disease?
Most Parkinson’s disease cases have an idiopathic cause; however, there is a small percentage that is related to family inheritance and, therefore, is or genetic origin. This would be approximately 15% of cases.
To be somewhat more specific, around 2-3% of cases of late onset will be caused by a mutation, and 50% of cases of early onset will also be traced to a genetic cause.
We can group risk factors into two categories: genetic and non-genetic.
As for non-genetic factors, these in turn can be divided into modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors.
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors
Non-modifiable risk factors are age, gender, and race.
Getting older can increase the risk of developing the disease, but it does not seem to be the main aetiological risk factor.
It is unlikely for gender to influence the risk of suffering from the disease, but it is slightly more common in men than in women.
Additionally, the disease has been observed to be less prevalent on the African continent, compared to Europe and North America.
Modifiable Risk Factors
Modifiable risk factors include smoking and exposure to pesticides, which increase the risk of developing the disease, while physical exercise, when practised energetically in middle age, can protect us from suffering this pathology; consumption of caffeine or tea also seems to protect us from developing Parkinson’s disease.
At Quirónsalud we have specialists in Advanced Neuroscience to help you detect the symptoms of the disease. Bring your questions to the team.