What is Perkin’s Disease, what does it consist of, what are its symptoms, its possible causes, how it is diagnosed and the medical treatments that exist.
Last week we woke up to news that surprised and saddened many of our readers: the famous and popular actor Robin Williams passed away on August 11, 2014 at his home in Marin County (California) at the age of 63. Already at that time it was indicated that it could be a suicide, and among the reasons that the authorities raised as possibilities, the depression that the actor had suffered for a long time was suspected.
However, a few days later his widow, Susan Schneider, indicated that the actor had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but was not yet ready to reveal it. In fact, as the widow herself indicated in an interview, “he was brave and fought his battles against depression, anxiety, as well as against the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.”
What is Parkinson’s disease?
It is also known by the names of paralysis gaits or idiopathic Parkinsonism. It consists of a chronic neurodegenerative disorder, which over time, leads the person who suffers from it to a progressive disability, as a result of the destruction -for reasons that are not yet known- of the pigmented neurons of the substantialIngra (heterogeneous portion of the midbrain, important of the basal ganglia system).
It also triggers alterations in cognitive function, in autonomic function and in the expression of emotions, which is why it is classified as a movement disorder.
What are your causes?
Before knowing what the causes of Parkinson’s are, we must bear in mind that the neurons in our brain are responsible for controlling movement, so that for it to occur, the neurons transmit the message to each other through neurotransmitters ( and also to the rest of the body).
However, when Parkinson’s disease appears, these messages are disrupted, and they are not transmitted uniformly to the muscles.
The cause is a lack of dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters involved in movement control. This means that if there is not enough, the neurons do not work correctly, not being able to transmit messages from the brain.
On the other hand, other neurotransmitter abnormalities also occur, and not only dopamine is the main and only neurotransmitter affected. This would explain why people affected by this disease present non-motor symptoms.
However, it is not entirely clear why the number of dopamine-producing cells is reduced. Researchers believe that many factors are actually responsible, including aging, genetic and environmental factors, and viruses.
There are several symptoms that appear in Parkinson’s disease, although we must bear in mind that these symptoms are common in the elderly and can be caused by other conditions.
They are the following:
- Tremor at rest, consisting of a kind of agitation, which decreases during sleep or when the person performs some activity.
- Stiffness of the muscles (muscular hypertonia).
- Slowness in voluntary and involuntary movements, especially difficulty starting and finishing them (bradykinesia).
- Loss of postural reflexes, and alteration of posture as well as postural instability.
- Excessive production of saliva (sialorrhea).
- Apathy, depression and anxiety.
- Cognitive alterations.
- Sleep disorders.
- Sensory alterations.
- Cramping, cold, burning, or numb feeling in the legs.
- Waist pain (lumbar) or headache (headache).
- Diminished or loss of the sense of smell (Anosmia).
- Autonomic function disorders.
How is Parkinson’s disease diagnosed?
Given that many of the symptoms that appear in Parkinson’s disease are common in the elderly and can be caused by other conditions, in the early stages of the disease the diagnosis – which is generally clinical – can be very difficult.
It is important to carry out a thorough questioning to find out other possible causes that differentiate Parkinson’s disease from other syndromes or conditions.
Some genetic diagnostic companies offer tests for the sequencing of different genes highly related to the disease (SPARK1, SPARK2 and SPARK4), but the detection of mutations in these genes does not determine that the person will actually develop the disease in the future. On the other hand, there is no laboratory test or radiological study that allows the diagnosis of the disease.
However, there is a therapeutic test consisting of the application of pharmacological therapy with Levodopa for at least 30 days. If the patient responds radically to his treatment, it is considered a positive test, and negative if there is no response at all.
What is the treatment for Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s treatment consists of improving, maintaining or prolonging the patient’s functionality for as long as possible. Currently there are three types of treatments:
- Pharmacological treatment: mainly levodopa and several dopamine agonists, as well as amantadine, Benz atropine and selegiline.
- Surgical treatment: Tran’s cranial alternating current stimulation or TACS, and nerve transplantation.
- Rehabilitative treatment: based on hand exercises. In addition, it is important that a speech therapist works with the patient.