Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation (PF). Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and coordinate body movements. If these nerve cells die or become damaged, the amount of dopamine in the brain is reduced.
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According to the NHS, this means the part of the brain controlling movement cannot work as well as normal, causing movements to become slow and abnormal.
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually develop gradually and are mild at first.
The NHS says the three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that affect physical movement are:
- Tremor – shaking, which usually begins in the hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the limb is relaxed and resting
- Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – physical movements are much slower than normal, which can make everyday tasks difficult and result in a distinctive
- Slow, shuffling walk with very small steps
- Muscle stiffness (rigidity) – stiffness and tension in the muscles, which can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions, and can result in painful muscle cramps (dystonia)
A subtle warning sign can be seen in your handwriting.
Sometimes writing can change as you get older, if you have stiff hands or fingers or poor vision, but there are some specific indications of Parkinson’s watch out for, explains the Parkinson’s Foundation (PF).
According to the PF, if your handwriting has gotten notably smaller than it was in the past, it could be a sign of Parkinson’s.
“You may notice the way you write words on a page has changed, such as letter sizes are smaller and the words are crowded together,” explains the health body.
Abnormally small handwriting caused by Parkinson’s disease is known as micrographia.
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Can it be prevented?
There is no known way to prevent Parkinson’s, but early research suggests lifestyle choices may reduce the risk.
Some research has shown that regular aerobic exercise might reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
It may also slow down the onset of symptoms, prolonging quality of life.
According to the PF, one study showed that people with Parkinson’s disease who exercised regularly for 2.5 hours a week had a smaller decline in mobility and quality of life over two years.
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Some other research has shown that people who drink caffeine — which is found in coffee, tea and cola — get Parkinson’s disease less often than those who don’t drink it.
However, as Mayo Clinic points out, it is still not known whether caffeine actually protects against getting Parkinson’s, or is related in some other way.
“Currently there is not enough evidence to suggest drinking caffeinated beverages to protect against Parkinson’s,” says the health body.
Green tea is also related to a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, notes the health site.
How to diagnose Parkinson’s
No tests can conclusively show that you have Parkinson’s disease.
“Your doctor will base a diagnosis on your symptoms, medical history and a detailed physical examination,” explains the NHS.
As the health site points out, in the early stages, your GP may find it difficult to say whether you definitely have the condition because symptoms are usually mild.
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