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What you need to know about Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s Disease is the second most common neuro-degenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s. In Quebec alone, it affects 25,000 people. Below is key information on the symptoms, diagnosis, risk factors, stages of development and treatments for the disease.


SYMPTOMS

Beyond slowness, rigidity and tremors - qualified as motor symptoms – other changes can manifest in many patients. These changes - or non-motor symptoms - can appear before the motor symptoms and impact the quality of life of the person with the disease. Many patients do not realize that these non-motor symptoms are related to Parkinson's disease. 

Motor symptoms

Non-motor symptoms*

  • Slow movement
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Tremors at rest
  • Postural instability

 

  • Gastrointestinal problems (swallowing and chewing problems, nausea, bloating, constipation...)
  • Orthostatic hypotension (=low blood pressure)
  • Urogenital disorders (incontinence, sexual disorders...)
  • Thermoregulation disorders (excessive sweating)
  • Sleep-wake cycle disorders (difficulties falling asleep, daytime sleepiness…)
  • Sensitivity disorders (pain, sight problems…)
  • Neuropsychiatric and cognitive disorders (depression, anxiety...)

*Non-motor symptoms can vary considerably from one patient to the next.

If you or a loved one suffer from some of these symptoms, it does not mean that it is Parkinson’s disease. Go to the Parkinson Québec website to obtain more information on the disease or talk to your physician about it.

DIAGNOSIS

It has been shown that the disease can start well before the diagnosis, in full active life. The diagnosis can be established especially by identifying at least two of the three major symptoms of the disease: slowness of movement, rigidity, tremors at rest. However, the specific causes of the disease remain unknown.

RISK FACTORS

While the cause of the disease remains undetermined, many factors come into play in its appearance:

  • Genes: Some genetic mutations can lead to the disease. They remain rare except in cases of families where several members have the disease.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain pollutants (herbicides and pesticides, especially) can increase the risks of contracting it.
  • Age: Young adults are rarely affected by the disease that appears in the mid- to later years in life.
  • Gender: Men are at greater risk than women.

 

STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT

Parkinson’s disease is marked by the degeneration of neurons that produce dopamine (or dopaminergic neurons). These neurons are essential for controlling body movements. The disease progresses differently from one patient to the next, but it is generally possible to distinguish 4 major stages of development [in french]: early symptoms; therapeutic balance; motor complications; advanced stage.

 

TREATMENTS

Current treatments act on the symptoms, but do not cure the disease. The research challenge is to identify the disease as early as possible in hopes of halting it.

Six classes of drugs are currently available to reduce symptoms: levodopa, dopamine agonists, anticholinergic, amantadine, MAO-B inhibitors and COMT inhibitors. It is important to clearly understand them, as well as the general principles that guide your physician in the choice of treatment. Pharmacists can also answer questions on medication and give clarification on managing the administration of medications.

That said, having Parkinson’s does not mean ceasing all activity. On the contrary, being active, stretching, and having good posture are all key factors to ensuring the quality of life of people with the disease.

 

REVISED BY:

Francesca Cicchetti, PhD

Researcher
Neurosciences Branch, CHUL

Associate Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences
Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval


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