Parkinson’s Disease: Is there a way to prevent it?

Published Jul 30, 2017 at 9:00am

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder of the brain, in which there is a deficiency of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

This substance is made in certain brain cells, deep at the base of the brain. Very little is known of the cause of this disease. Risk factors include: older age, being male, having Parkinson’s in the family, and possibly being exposed to (unknown) toxins. Even more mysterious is that there is no simple blood test or x-ray to make the diagnosis.

The onset of the disease is usually gradual. Early signs include a tremor and stiffness when moving. These symptoms may appear to be part of the normal aging process. If you or a loved one has a tremor, you should talk to your primary doctor about it.

If it is very minor and does not worsen, it probably isn’t due to a specific disease. If the tremor becomes worse and interferes with daily life, you need to see a specialist – a neurologist. He or she will do various tests to evaluate your reflexes, movement, language, and ability to take care of yourself.

Tests may be done to rule out other causes of the symptoms you have. Diagnostic imaging tests such as MRI or CT-scan may be ordered, but generally they can’t be used to make a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Diagnosis is usually determined by a neurologist over time, as typical symptoms of this condition appear and then become more intense. Sometimes a trial of Parkinson’s medication is tried. If the symptoms improve, that means the cause is probably Parkinson’s Disease.

You will need to work with your neurologist closely, as the disease worsens. Treatment involves giving a form of the missing neurotransmitter. The usual medication is called Levodopa. The medication that first works may have less effect over time. All medications can cause side effects, so those problems must be monitored. 

Most of the early signs of Parkinson’s are more of a nuisance than an impairment. As time goes by, people may become more disabled. Poor coordination may make it difficult to walk, eat, or talk. As the disease progresses many people can no longer work or drive. Fortunately, the medications continue to improve and can sometimes maintain a patient for many years with only minor difficulties.

Surgery is now available called deep brain stimulation (DBS). An electrode is implanted into the brain. A generator is placed in the chest and sends impulses to the area of the brain. This treatment may bring about many years of improvement. However, it does not completely cure the problem, which eventually recurs.

Parkinson’s is a slowly progressive disease that usually occurs in older persons. Since the cause is essentially unknown there is no known way to prevent the disease.

Experts speculate that maintaining healthy habits helps prevent this brain disease. That includes staying thin, getting exercise, keeping blood pressure down, eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, and avoiding stress. It is also speculated that drinking caffeine regularly may be preventive.