It’s important to spread awareness of Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders year-round, but since this April is National Parkinson’s Awareness Month, now is a good time to talk about the basics of Parkinson’s. What is it? What causes it? How is it treated?  

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement. It can cause trembling, shaking, stiffness, difficulty with balance or impaired coordination. It could also cause problems with speech or writing. The disease occurs when neurons in the parts of the brain that affect movement die off. The problem is that these neurons produce a chemical called dopamine, and when the neurons die, the levels of dopamine in the brain decrease, which leads to the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

What are the causes?

While Parkinson’s is caused by reduced dopamine levels in the brain due to certain neurons being impaired, scientists still don’t know what causes the neurons to die. Many researchers think that a combination of both genetic and environmental factors can lead to the disease. Even though scientists have identified certain gene mutations that could cause Parkinson’s, they are extremely rare and unlikely to be a risk factor. A more likely cause of Parkinson’s is exposure to toxins or other harmful environmental factors, but even then the risk is pretty small.

What are the risk factors?

There are a number of factors that contribute to the risk of Parkinson’s. People who are over 50 years old are more likely to get Parkinson’s than younger people. Additionally, people who have been exposed to toxins or other harmful chemicals have a stronger chance of getting sick. If a number of people in one family have the disease, then that’s another risk factor. It’s also worth noting that males are more likely than females to get Parkinson’s, however, most researchers agree that the diagnosis is mostly random.

How is it treated?

Although there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, there are a few treatments that can relieve some of the symptoms. A common treatment for Parkinson’s is Levodopa therapy. Patients take Levodopa in order to increase the levels of dopamine in their brains, as well as Carbidopa to relieve some of the side effects of Levodopa. 

While talking to doctors and taking medications is important to treating Parkinson’s, it’s also important to take certain steps in everyday life in order to live with the disease:

  • Exercise more
  • Try a healthy diet
  • Learn some hand exercises
  • Join a support group
  • Make sure to stay safe
  • Develop a strong relationship with your healthcare team